resources and reviews

Pray A to Z: a book to help us pray like we promise we will

pray-with-purposeWhen a friend reveals a terrible thing going on in her life, we might respond with a hug and “Oh, how hard. I’ll pray for you.”

And then we forget.

We watch the news and our retinas are burned out by the horrible things we see broadcast and we think I should pray about that more.

But we get distracted.

The church emails the really long and detailed prayer list and our eyes glaze over immediately, completely unprepared to pray for Mr. Stone’s prostate surgery on Thursday.

BECAUSE I’M NOT PREPARED TO DISCUSS MR. SMITH’S PROSTATE WITH THE ALMIGHTY, okay?

I’m just not.

Guilt ensues.

We feel guilty about how we don’t actually pray for our friends, family, and community enough, but we have no idea of how to fit that into our lives.

We want to worship and focus on God’s mighty attributes, but the children and the piles of laundry are so much louder than God most days.

Guess what. Someone saw this need coming and they wrote a book for us, and then a copy was thoughtfully provided for us for free here on the blog. It’s called Pray A to Z (***affiliate link) and Amelia Rhodes understands our messy, crazy lives. Her organized brain has categorized our concerns so we can actually pray like we want to do.

pray-a-to-z-coverFrom A (adoption, abuse, Almighty…) to P (pregnancies, Pain, Promise Keeper) to Z (zest, Zion, zeal), we can read through the simple, quick entries to direct our thoughts outward to God, seeking him.

Let’s take a peek inside Pray A to Z

Of course I turned first to the Finances entry, because that’s how my brain works. I loved how this section fits in exactly with what we talk about on this blog all the time:

Father, forgive me for where I have allowed the love of money to creep into my life. Help me remember to put my trust in You, not in a bank account, in possessions, or in what money can do for me. Let my security rest in You, not my stuff. Help me learn to be content with what I have, and not always be searching for the next great thing. Grow my desire to use money to serve You and Your kingdom… (p. 54).

I love prayers that are written out, simply because they gather my thoughts and intentions and express them so beautifully. This book is a gentle way to keep me on track and focused on the right things when I pray, instead of running my brain around like an anxious chicken.

Amelia Rhodes
Amelia Rhodes

Win a copy!

If you’d like to be more prayerful, more worshipful, and more competent to discuss Mr. Smith’s prostate with the Lord (just kidding, there’s no Prostate chapter), this book is exactly what you need. You can click the icon below to be entered into a contest to win a copy for yourself!

Pray A to Z Amelia Rhodes
Amelia Rhodes is fabulous, and I know you’ll love to get to know her. You can find her at her website, ameliarhodes.comFollowing God into the Unknown is my favorite series on her blog, and you can read all about how her family believed God was calling them to downsize and move to a new house. It’s a story of faith, contentment, and rejection of modern culture’s expectations. You’re going to love it; check it out!

The Tightwad Gazette: Timeless Financial Advice for Your Family

What financial advice stands the test of time?

Financial advice must go beyond simple math lessons. The important stuff doesn’t have anything to do with cereal coupons or BOGO sales at the QuickMart. The best financial advice starts in our minds and hearts, giving us the right motivations and perspective on how we’re spending our money.

Years ago I was a fairly hysterical young wife and mother. And I mean hysterical in the “hey, that lady in the library’s budgeting section should be medicated,” not the “ha-ha, she’s funny kind of way.” 

I had a lot of goals for our family and we didn’t have buckets of gold dropping from the clouds. I turned my energy to learning everything I could about frugal living, budgeting, and stretching our income.

The dream that keeps on giving, I tell you

And this is where The Complete Tightwad Gazette  (*affiliate link) came into our lives, for better or worse. I found a copy in our little bitty library, a giant, 959-page tome of light shining into our financial situation. Amy Dacyczyn was a woman not unlike myself– a mother who wanted to raise her family in a certain way, and she was going to require some ninja-level skills to achieve her dreams.

Her dream was to have a big family (six kids!), live in the country in a charming old farmhouse, and not use daycare. This was a tall order, even back in the 80s and 90s.

The Complete Tightwad Gazette is a compilation of all her ninja-level frugal living skills, bound up for us today. But let’s be honest– we’re not living in 1992 anymore. Some of the advice in the book is now a bit laughable. For example, there are several entries on how to save money on stamps and envelopes. I can’t even imagine worrying about envelopes today. There’s also an article on saving money with CD membership programs, and some random advice on powdered milk.


So let’s skip all that and get right to the stuff that still applies to our lives today. Here’s the financial advice from Amy Dacyczyn that changed my life, and my family’s future. I’m confident this still applies for your family, too.

Set your family’s goals, then work relentlessly to meet them.

There’s no point to frugal living or budgeting if you don’t have a goal. Even if your plans are as simple as Save enough to pay off the last doctor’s visit, that’s fine. But the goals and the priorities are the place we all start.

It’s okay to live a counter cultural life to reach those goals.

Listen, it wasn’t normal to have a passel of kids and live in a huge old farmhouse in 1992, either. The Dacyczyns were weirdos even then. But they didn’t care. They were willing to wear garage-sale clothing and become DIY experts to live the life they envisioned. Nothing has changed in that regard.

It takes big and small sacrifices to reach the most important goals.

The most worthwhile goals require more than switching to the cheap toilet paper or using a coupon for coffee. We might have to severely limit our housing costs, our grocery bills, our insurance costs, and then still micromanage the tiny expenses.

It’s worth it in the end.

The Dacyczyns made their choices and lived with them happily. They got their big old farmhouse and raised their big old family there. They drank reconstituted powdered milk and ate produce from their own garden, exactly the way they wanted to live. Your goals might be completely different, but you can revel in your own success when you achieve what’s best for your family.

Those are my favorite bits of the Dacyczyn story. Sure, I benefited from their muffin recipe and giggled at the article on dumpster diving. But really, their life gave me the courage to set our own goals and then to be content with the sacrifices those goals required.

It’s what this entire blog is about, all these years later.

I hope you’ll pick up your own copy of the Tightwad Gazette, and let me know what works for you!


 

Create Excellent Graphics for Blogs and Social Media (with no graphic design background!)

create-excellent-graphics-for-blogs-and-social-mediaHowdy! Are you looking for a good tutorial on how to make great graphics for your blog or social media? I’m here for you in your hour of need. I’ve been making graphics and editing photos for for five years, and I started knowing nothing. Zero things. I’ve learned it a little at a time, and you can too! I’ll begin with a few basics, and then I’ll tell you what sites and apps can make these graphics.

(If you’re looking for a printable to summarize all of this, here you go: printable-how-to-make-excellent-graphics-for-blogs-and-social-media . You are welcome.)

First of all, let’s start with a few very basic graphic design principles. I learned these from a book called The Non-Designer’s Design Book, by Robin Williams (not that Robin Williams. A different, teachery one). You can find it here on Amazon (*affiliate link). I love this book because she breaks down the process into a few simple steps for novices like us. Here’s a summary of the most important principles with some graphics for examples.

We’ll start with this mess I created just as an example. There’s nothing right about this quote. I used a bunch of fonts, and they’re all sort of the same but not exactly the same. The words wander all over the screen and nothing makes sense.

anne-lamott-bad-graphics

We need to apply the principle of Contrast. Similar isn’t good enough. Make the fonts the same or completely different. Evaluate the type of font you’d like to use. If it’s heavy and fat, then your other fonts should be lighter and thinner.

anne-lamott-2

This is a little better. At least the fonts don’t look close-but-not-close-enough, like when you wander out of the house wearing a blue shoe and a black shoe.

Now we need to apply the principles of Repetition and Unity. Make sure your photo, your font, and your idea blend well together. Repeat colors in the graphic (pull them from the photo, if you’re using one). Use the same idea throughout. If you have several graphics in one blog post, make sure they go together.

anne-lamott-3

Again, a little better. Now we have fonts that make sense, colors that go together, and a little bit of bokeh in the background. Things aren’t so ugly anymore!

Now let’s apply the principle of Alignment: Please don’t allow random plopping of text or photos! Have the edges line up as much as possible. Center things if it makes it stronger, or play with a bottom, right hand alignment. Draw an imaginary line and make sure it’s straight. Your eye wants to follow a line that makes sense.

anne-lamott-4

Now we have our last principle, Proximity: Things that relate should go together. Make sure the white space is also grouped, not dispersed. Things that you want to emphasize should have the larger font, the heavier color, or both. Secondary items should visually move to the background a little bit, but should still be readable. In the graphic below, the main part of the text is readable (thanks to that background circle called an overlay) and the words are also the same size. “So Listen” is what you see first, which was the point I was making with this graphic.

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Here, let me show you two more graphics to illustrate what I mean. This poor invitation breaks literally every rule I just shared. It’s an abomination.

breathe-bad-example

But here, I’ve cleaned it up for us. Isn’t it better? The same information is all available, but in a way that pleases the eye. I’ve picked two fonts (three is the max! No more than three!) and they’re clearly different from each other. The main color scheme is black and white, but I added a muted orange-yellow for some contrast. I’ve chosen a right-hand alignment, and our eye is happy to see the visual organization. And lastly, the information that belongs together is all carefully placed together. The reader no longer has to wander all over the invitation, seeking when and where to show up.

pg-hp-banquet-2-bw

Okay, this is all very well and good, you’re saying. But where and how do I make these things? Excellent question. I have several great choices for you. I use all three of these sites/apps a lot, and I’ll start with the one I use the most.

PicMonkey! This was the site where I started and where I made all the graphics for this post. I spend hours here every week, and I cheerfully pay for the yearly subscription ($39). I love this site so much I signed up to be an affiliate, so if you click on the banner above I’ll make a small commission. But let me promise you I don’t advertise services I don’t use, and I firmly stand behind this one. Here’s what I think about PicMonkey after five years of heavy use.

PicMonkey Pros:

  • Excellent tutorials. I’ve learned so much from their amazing blog. Here’s the link!
  • Ease of use. It’s simple to resize things, filter images, upload photos, and then save it to your computer. If you have any computer skills at all, you can quickly master PicMonkey.
  • Tons of free options. If an upgrade isn’t in your budget, no worries. You can use a lot of the features for free.
  • New mobile feature! This is brand new, as of mid-2016. And hallelujah for it!

PicMonkey Cons:

  • Your computer needs to have Flash updated and running well, or PicMonkey can’t handle the strain. Whenever things get goofy for me, I look down and sure enough– my Adobe icon is bouncing.
  • No grid to line up text and features. Other photo editors, like Canva, automatically give you lines to show when you’ve aligned with other text. I really wish the Monkey would come up with this soon.
I made this graphic in Canva.
I made this graphic in Canva.

Canva! (Find them at canva.com.) I was introduced to this website last year, and I think it has some great features. It has similar functions to PicMonkey, but the site is organized differently and has a different learning curve. I think I would have loved it if I had started with it earlier, but some of the features are so different than PicMonkey that I keep going back to what I know, especially when I’m in a hurry. Here’s what I’ve learned about Canva so far:

Canva Pros:

  • Amazing tutorials! They’ll even email you every few weeks with a new one. They’re interactive, five-minute lessons to show you how to make great graphics on their site. Click here for their Design School.
  • That grid I was just mentioning in the PicMonkey section is a huge bonus. It’s really helpful to keep things aligned and looking spiffy.
  • Your earlier designs are saved for you (if you set up a free account). This is awesome because you can go back and rework things (or find them if your computer loses your work!).

Canva Cons:

  • Things get a little weird when I go to download my graphics. Sometimes. Other times it’s fine. I seem to have the best luck if I download a jpg instead of a png. I think it might be a problem with how Canva interacts with Firefox on my work computer.
  • Resizing images (which is something I need to do all the time) takes a paid subscription. Since I pay for PicMonkey but I’m not made out of money, I don’t have a subscription with Canva. I do tend to keep about $10 on my account there, though, because some of their elements are pay-as-you-go.
I made this graphic in WordSwag, and I think it took me two minutes. So fast and easy!
I made this graphic in WordSwag, and I think it took me two minutes. So fast and easy!

WordSwag! I was also introduced to this app just last year, and it’s been a huge time saver.

WordSwag Pros:

  • Absolutely zero graphic design stress. You pick a background or photo, and then you type in your text. From there you pick from many, many different text styles, and the app makes it perfect for you.
  • Pixabay photos are connected to the search feature. This means you have thousands of copyright free pictures to choose from.

WordSwag Cons:

  • Mobile only, as of this writing.
  • Limited options for tweaking the text. Sometimes things are almost right in WordSwag, but not quite. For example, I write about God a lot since I’m a faith-based blogger. In some WordSwag options “God” will be written “god,” which means an entirely different thing to my reader. There’s no way for me to simply fix that little g. I have to pick other options until I get the capital I need.

My goodness, I hope all this information helps you! If you have questions, find me on Facebook. You can find the link to the right and below this post. Again, here’s the PDF printable to summarize it all: printable-how-to-make-excellent-graphics-for-blogs-and-social-media.

Thanks for reading, and happy graphic-designing!
Jess

How to be a not-terrible hostess this Christmas season

As I write this, the holidays are approaching and you’re the elected hostess. It’s entirely possible your house is already filling with guests in some sort of Christmas Vacation scenario, and your Cousin Eddie’s dog is rooting through the trash while his tenement on wheels is parked in your driveway. The bedrooms and couches are filled to capacity and you’ve started smoking your hidden cigarettes again to ease your nerves.

How to be a great hostessYou want everyone to enjoy their holiday and their time in your home. But you’re also freaking out a little and wishing you’d moved to Iceland last year when you had the chance to transfer to the Kirkjubæjarklaustur office.

Just in time to calm your nerves, I bring you The Reluctant Entertainer (affiliate link*), the book that reminds us that hospitality is about opening our lives to our guests, not trying to impress them with our superior decorating, cooking, and cleaning skills. Being a great hostess doesn’t have to look like what we see on TV.

“Opening our lives” means sharing our actual lives, not the perfect ones we fake for social media. The pile of shoes by the front door can stay. So can the toys spread across the living room floor and the heap of clothes you hide on the far side of the bed.

The nasty garbage and the pile of dishes that smells like something died in the drain might be going  a little far, because generally guests do enjoy being able to breathe through the nose without gagging. And a wee bit of attention paid to the bathroom never hurt anyone, either.

Guests need comfortable places to hang out, good food, and some clean towels. Mostly, they want our presence, and not the jacked-up, anxious, nervous-breakdown-hostess edition. They’d like the calm and relaxed edition of us, the one who eats too many cookies and then hides the dirty cookie trays in the oven.

photo-1461010083959-8a5727311252

On the other hand…some of you may be dreading your guests for good reason. They might be picky, demeaning, and critical, with a tendency to make pointed comments about your scuffed baseboards.

Guess what.

This says a lot about them, and nothing about you.

Their criticism comes from a dark place in their heart, and you don’t have to go there. Go about your business. Eat another cookie. Take a nip from the flask you keep in the top cupboard. But don’t let them convince you that you’re the problem.

You enjoy your holiday, be the best hostess you can be, share the joy of the season and the gift of Christ’s birth, and move on. They’ll go home soon and you can nap all through January.

4-decisions-banner


College Debt: Yikes. (But here’s a good resource for us all!)

Have you noticed the rising problem of college debt lately?

Eric and I graduated from college many years ago, shortly after the horse and buggy fell out of fashion, but just before women won the right to vote. I believe Chester A. Arthur may have been President.

Just kidding. It was only about 17-15 years ago, depending on which one of us you’re quizzing over our educational history, and Clinton was definitely President. But in those years a lot has changed about college– mostly the price.

The kids and I spent some time at an educational Expo last week, so I’ve been in college planning mode for days. Our county now has a cooperative between the local school districts and the community college, giving our students an opportunity to dual enroll in high school and college classes. If they complete the program they leave a “5th” year of high school with an associates degree they don’t have to pay a dime for.

Not only is the degree completely free, the options are fabulous!

The kids will be able to tailor their studies to things they’re especially interested and gifted in, which is one trillion times better than slogging through some advanced math class they’ll never use again. It sounds like Kalamazoo County isn’t the only one doing this sort of Early Middle College, so check out the options where you live. It might save you $80,000,000.

Or whatever two years of college costs.

how to pay for collegeDon’t worry. We have a helpful book to the rescue.

But also, I found a book called Beating the College Debt Trapby Alex Chediak, (affiliate link) in our local library this weekend. If you have tweens or teens, just go ahead and buy the book. It’s written to the prospective students, giving them loads of advice on wise educational choices. Advice like this:

What’s at stake here? Nothing less than the rest of your life. Going to college is the most expensive decision you’ve ever made. The consequences of how you pay for it will be with you into your twenties, thirties, and beyond. Will you be able to take that dream job you’d love to have but that doesn’t pay well? Buy a house someday? Get married? Start having kids? Stay home with your kids? Start a business? Leave for the mission field? Today you either set yourself up for success or failure. Freedom or bondage. Peace or stress. You decide. (from Beating the College Debt Trap, pg. 19)

These are some of the exact things we talk about in If I Plug My Ears, God Can’t Tell Me What to Do. The choices we make today affect how much room we have to follow God in the years to come. Of course a good education is vital, but it doesn’t have to come from a four year program that costs $80,000,000. We never know what God will bring to our future, so it’s always wisest to spend wisely.

(I seem to be stuck on eighty million dollars today. It’s the number of the day, I guess.)

But anyway, Chediak gives us things to think about before it’s too late. Go find his book and start talking with your kids. They’ll roll their eyes now, but thank you profusely all through their 20s and 30s.

The Real Force (a devotional for Star Wars fans!)

Star Wars fans, pay attention. This blog post is for you! I know you’re all excited about the new movie that’s coming out– I have an idea that will connect your love of the movies to a deeper spiritual meaning.

But first. I need to disclose my complete and utter disinterest in all things related to space: aliens, spacecraft, the orbit of the moon, and any movie including any of those items. The two males in this house think I’m ridiculous, but you can’t change a Storm Trooper’s suit. I mean, a zebra’s stripes. Whatever.

When I was asked to be part of the launch team for The Real Force: A 40-Day Devotional, I was upfront about my issues. I told the author, Paul Kent, that I would not be able to participate due to my eyes glazing over whenever those guys in white plastic outfits start shooting people. BUT, I told him, I had a couple of guys who might be interested.

The sample ARC arrived at our house with five of the forty devotionals printed inside. Eric sat down with our ten-year old nightly and they read through them together. Eric reports that Caleb loved every night of it, even though some of the spiritual concepts were a little above his head. It gave them time together to discuss the Bible from a new angle, one they both adore.

This is the place where I should explain some of the biblical connections to Star Wars, but I’m going to save us all the embarrassment of me trying to explain the movie parts to you. It would be a train wreck. While I don’t get the movie references, I certainly do get the biblical ones. I love the reminders to trust God through difficultly, to seek humility, and to stay connected to Christ.

As they finished the last sample devotional, Caleb informed Eric that he really wants the whole book. Eric agreed. We’ll be ordering it shortly, and if you have Star Wars lovers in your house, this will be a great Christmas gift.

Here’s where you can order it!

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Breathe Christian Writers Conference: High Value, Low Cost

I spent most of the weekend at the Breathe Christian Writer’s Convention, which was wonderful. But by Saturday afternoon I had to get out for a minute. My brain was overflowing with information and my introvert energy levels were sorely depleted, so I snuck out of a session to go to the mall.

I do realize that makes me sound like a seventeen year old, yes. But I really needed to go see the new comforters at my favorite housewares store (rhymes with Mottery Marn), and so the seventeen year old in me commandeered the keys to the minivan and off we went.

This image was borrowed directly of the Pottery Barn website, and it may bear a strong resemblance to the very quilt I was considering.
This image was borrowed directly off the Mottery Marn website, and it may bear a strong resemblance to the very quilt I was considering.

Can someone please tell me what makes a blanket, a piece of woven cotton threads, worth $300? Of course quality costs more, and I’m willing to pay a fair price to a company that doesn’t churn out $12 blankets because they’re running sweat shops in the Philippines.

But $300? For a blanket? Good grief and no. So I trundled out to the minivan and drove back to the conference, where I stuffed the remaining cavities of brain space with a few more bits of information.

Here's my friend Bob, I think. I don't know who took this photo because I stole it right off the Breathe Facebook page.
Here’s my friend Bob teaching, I think. I don’t know who took this photo because I stole it right off the Breathe Facebook page.

It occurred to me later that the Breathe Conference was the exact opposite experience of my blanket shopping trip. I’ve been to other writers conferences that cost over $650. I really thought the internationally known speakers and workshops would justify the high price tag, but I left terribly disappointed. There was a lot of hype without a lot of help.

This would be the panel of editors that Ann Byle interviewed for us all, giving us the inside scoop on what editors want. (And what drives them crazy!)
This would be the panel of editors that Ann Byle interviewed for us all, giving us the inside scoop on what editors want. (And what drives them crazy!)

In contrast, Breathe cost me $130 and I took away more information than I know what to with. I have a folder stuffed with tidbits I need to start using and for this I spent $520 less than the fancy-pants conference.

It turns out sometimes the price is not right. The extra cost is not always justified.

This explains why the comforter I’ve had for five years is currently in the washing machine, awaiting its third dye job. I stopped at Hobby Lobby after work today to grab a bottle of navy blue Rit Dye. If this works (fingers crossed), I’ll have an approximate copy of the $300 blanket but it’s going to cost me a total of four bucks.

If it doesn’t work, I really will be in the market for a new blanket soon. But it certainly isn’t going to be the one at the Mottery Marn.

If you’re in the market for a writers conference, I highly recommend the Breathe Conference in Grand Rapids (October 7-8, 2016!). High quality doesn’t always come with a high price tag, and this conference proves it.

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How to Tell If Your Kid Is Spoiled (and what to do about it!)

I picked up a new book, The Opposite of Spoiled, at the library last week. If you are raising children in the Western, materialistic world, you should read it. Ron Lieber is the “Your Money” columnist at the The New York Times, which is an impressive credential. But credentials don’t mean anything to me unless an author is talking some sense, and Mr. Lieber does just that.

The book discusses all the ways children in our culture are affected by money– family finances, their own personal finances, and what they see going on in their community and social network. If we think they don’t notice our parental arguments about money or how expensive their friends’ homes are, we’re dullards. They notice. Kids notice everything. And the more we can teach them about finances before they’re adults with their own big-time money problems, the better.

This is the general topic of the book, but a small chapter on spoiled children really caught my attention. Lieber points out many parents fear this one character trait more than any other in their children, because it’s our own fault. Children can’t spoil themselves; they need well-meaning but clueless adults to do that to them. And most of us are mature enough to see the terrible consequences of a spoiled child growing into a spoiled adult.

It’s ugly, folks.

 

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Most parents don’t set out to destroy their children’s future, and so some of our kids are becoming spoiled simply because we think we’re doing exactly the good and kind things. Lieber gives these four qualifications of a spoiled child (p. 10). He says they don’t have to be present all at one time, but these are things they have in common:

  1. They have few chores or responsibilities.
  2. There aren’t many rules that govern their behavior or schedules.
  3. Parents and others lavish them with time and assistance.
  4. They have a lot of material possessions.

Let me rephrase:

  • They think life should be easy and fun. For them. Everyone else can work.
  • They think they get to do whatever they want, whenever they want.
  • They think adults exist to entertain them and fix their problems.
  • They have no concept of self-denial.

In short, spoiled children are taught, in small bits each day, to think only of themselves and their own comfort in any given situation.

My blood is running cold at the thought of this; is yours?

Me, me, me. Gimme, gimme, gimme. Now, now, now. 

The solution, as I see it, is simple. Chores teach them to help out and consider the needs of others. Rules and schedules give them boundaries that help them consider the needs of others. Adults are not their servants; they need to teach them to think of the needs of others and to fix their own problems whenever possible. Telling them no teaches them that life will continue if they don’t have everything they desire, which will in turn help them to consider the needs of others.

Parents– we can spoil our kids, or we can help them grown up into thoughtful, mature adults.

Thoughts? What would you like to add to the conversation? I can’t wait to see what you all have to say about this!

Jesus said: I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:11-13)

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The Jesus Prayer: Just What Your Prayer Time Needs

Behold, I have learned something new. And now I’m going to teach it to you.

Except some of you are going to fall off your chairs laughing at me, because it’s nothing new and you’ve known it since you were a tiny wee thing in church, your grandma knows it, and Christians for hundreds of years have known it.

The Jesus Prayer. It’s nothing new, but it’s new to me.

Our particular brand of Protestantism wrinkles up our nose at recited prayers. We feel they’re canned, they’re impersonal, and they often don’t make room for the Holy Spirit to break through into our hard thoughts.

This is what we tell ourselves anyway, and I do remember a running theme of Godisgood, Godisgreat, Nowwethankhimforourfood, Amen at the Morgan dinner table from 1981 to, oh, this last Christmas. Our parents tried to teach us to pray and instead we found a rhyme we could throw in God’s general direction before we dug into the food.

Of course spontaneous, heartfelt prayers are often the best way to connect with God, but let’s be honest. Our prayers often turn into this: God, here are the things I want you to do for me. Safe travel, comfortable finances, a good future, and healthy loved ones.

Me, me, me. I, I, I. We shoot up a to-do list to the Almighty and expect him to hop to it.

(Insert awkward pause where everyone, including this writer, remembers exactly what we’ve told God to do for us lately…)

I’ve been reading a book called Flunking Sainthood by Jana Riess. Chapter by chapter she’s been going through some of the classic approaches to faith and then she reports how miserably she fails at them.

I love it. I love the book, and I love Jana Riess. In the chapter on Centering Prayer she stumbled across the Jesus Prayer, which is this:

The Jesus Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. 

Riess says this about the Jesus Prayer:

That’s it, the whole enchilada. Four wee clauses packed with gospel truths: Christ’s lordship, his relationship to God, our need for forgiveness, our propensity to sin. It’s a prayer that Christians have been saying since about the fourth century. It’s a prayer I might even have a chance of living out. (p. 75)

This is exactly what I’ve been trying to do lately– find God for who he really is and then spend time in his presence. No demands. No begging. No manipulating. Just a simple search for him, then resting quietly with him. This tiny little ancient prayer takes the focus off myself and puts it directly on him. Perfect.

Lord Jesus Christ,

…that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Galatians 2:10-11, NLT)

Son of God, 

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6, NLT)

have mercy on me,

For God said to Moses, “I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose.” So it is God who decides to show mercy. We can neither choose it nor work for it. (Romans 9:15-16, NLT)

a sinner.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with underserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. (Romans 3:23-24, NLT)

(Insert Drumroll Here…) A Free Ebook for You!

Green Plastic Monkey free ebook

Dear reader, how I appreciate you. Without you and your willingness to read the random thoughts I type, I’d only be a lunatic pushing buttons on a little gray piece of glass and circuits.

But you, the reader, turn me into an actual writer and not just a weirdo. Because you are the far more important part of this little team (anyone can hit buttons on a keyboard– only super wonderful people will read what comes of it), I have a present for you.

Okay, it’s not really from me. A bunch of other people at the publishing house gave permission for this to happen. Discovery House is offering my first book, There’s a Green Plastic Monkey in My Purse, as a free ebook from now until March 30. EEEEKKKK! This is very exciting!

Here are three different places on the webernet you can find it. One of them should work for whatever device you have. Click on the links and you’ll be taken right to the Green Plastic Monkey page:

  1. iTunes
  2. Christianbook.com
  3. BookShout

All this free gift-giving is in anticipation of the release of my next book, If I Plug My Ears, God Can’t Tell Me What to Do, which arrives in stores in early May. In fact, I got the first copy yesterday, delivered to my door. Here’s a little picture.

Plug My Ears Collage

Again, thank you so much for reading. I hope you’re excited about the next book and all the new adventures we’ll have together. In the mean time please feel free to share the first ebook with as many people as you can– word of mouth is the best marketing tools we authors have.

A final note– The book of Isaiah and I have had some quality time together this week as I’ve been seeking God’s will and words. These verses especially resonate with me today as I contemplate all God is doing through these books. I am so pleased it’s spilling out of me and into your lives. I pray his will for your life will spill out of you and bless those around you, and may he receive all the glory.

The Sovereign Lord has given me his words of wisdom, so that I know how to comfort the weary. Morning by morning he wakens me and opens my understanding to his will. The Sovereign Lord has spoken to me, and I have listened. I have not rebelled or turned away. (Isaiah 50:4-5, NLT)

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