Book Reviews, devotional, writing

How to Write a Devotion Review

How to Write a Devotion, by Melanie Chitwood

Have you felt called to write a devotion or a devotional blog post, but you’re not sure where to start? How to Write a Devotion by my friend Melanie Chitwood is the perfect place to start. This concise, easy-to-follow book outlines five simple steps to writing a life-changing devotion! Melanie shows you everything from choosing a read-worthy topic to addressing your readers’ needs to finishing with a bang (or a prayer). 

This is not just a book, but it’s also a workbook for us hands-on gals who like to make notes right in the text! It’s packed with examples and practical advice for helping you to get your devotion written now! 

Melanie has written hundreds of devotions for Proverbs 31 Ministries as well as several books. She’s currently a writing coach and editor at Next Step Coaching Services. This book will give you the confidence you need to write and publish your devotion, so it’s ready for publication—whether you’re clicking “post” to your own blog or sending a devotional book proposal off to an agent or publisher.  

Everything you need to confidently write your next devotion is in this 45-page book in five easy steps. Just add prayer and Scripture! I’m giving this wonderful resource a resounding thumbs up! Run over to her website and grab your copy today!

about me, divorce, healing, moving on, writing

Why I Have to Write

Last week I shared why I’m afraid to write my story. It was enough to scare me off all over again! This week I want to share why, in spite of my fears, I feel compelled to write anyway.

God has put in my heart to share my story in order to help others who may be going through similar hard stuff. Hard stuff is hard stuff, that is true, yet some hard stuff is so unique that only those who have suffered through it can truly understand those with the same difficulties. Here’s a brief rundown of some of my hard stuff over the past seven and a half years. 

Within a period of a year or so, I endured a separation (that eventually resulted in divorce), a totaled car, bankruptcy and foreclosure through no fault of my own, a child who almost committed suicide, job loss, financial loss, custody suits, serious health issues with my parents, serious health issues for myself, loss of church and friends due to false rumors, loss of my home, and more. 

Just as I was getting back on my feet, the whole cycle started over again. I had remarried (after much prayer and thought), but that marriage, too, ended in divorce due to abuse. I had expensive car repairs and expensive health issues. Again, I lost a job and a church. A child did something that rocked my world. A parent called with another cancer diagnosis. Property and finances were stolen from me. This second cycle was a bit shorter, and I was better prepared, yet I cried out to God asking why I had to suffer through all of these hard things again

So why do I feel the need to share about some of these hard things? I need to shine the light of God’s truth onto the ugly places of marital abuse in the church. Divorce—even in 2020—is still heavily stigmatized in the church. Who are we to judge what others have been through when they most need love? I need to help parents of children living alternative lifestyles know they are not alone, and it’s not their fault. 

I need to share that even though my entire life crumbled around me—literally—more than once, I can remain standing because of God’s faithfulness. God has put in my heart to share my story to make stepping stones out of the pit back onto solid ground and to show others who are where I have been the path to freedom and wholeness. Spoiler alert: I’m not all the way there yet.  

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;     
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;    
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”

Lamentations 3:22-24 ESV

The other reason I need to share my story is that I was silenced for so many years and made to feel like I was less than and not important. I lost my sense of self. I lost my opinions. I was made to feel worthless. I lost my self-confidence. All of it. 

I need to write in order to feel heard and to regain myself! I have been silenced long enough!

Which of these topics can you identify with? Which of these topics would you like to see in print first? (Well, on the blog, not really in print.)

anxiety, healing, moving on, When a Woman Finds Her Voice, writing

Why I’m Afraid to Write My Story

I’ve been procrastinating, which is unlike me. I’ve decided that this is the year to tell my story, but I want to communicate it with redemption and hope. As I was trying to figure out why I felt so anxious whenever I thought of writing recently, I came up with this (probably partial) list of fears. Can you relate?

I’m afraid I’ll be minimalized—again. I’m afraid my parents will disapprove of what I choose to say. I’m afraid others (kids, friends, family, strangers) will disapprove of what I choose to say. I’m afraid I’ll be told my story doesn’t matter. I’m afraid to relive some of the really hard parts of my story. I’m afraid people will think I’m not a good writer. I’m afraid I won’t come up with the right words. I’m afraid I won’t be able to craft the story with redemption and hope. I’m afraid I’ll have to do marketing and all that stuff that makes my brain hurt and makes me feel inadequate. 

I’m afraid people will say what happened to me wasn’t that bad. I’m afraid to be vulnerable because I don’t want to get hurt again/more. I’m afraid to dream. I’m afraid to hope. I’m afraid to believe that I could actually write something helpful that people would want to read (never mind the fact that part of my day job title includes the word writer). I’m afraid I’ve only got one word for how I made it through some of the toughest spots: God. I’m afraid I don’t know how to incorporate all the elements properly. I’m afraid I’ll fail. I’m afraid it won’t be perfect.

There are nowhere near 365 “I’m afraid” statements there, yet God has provided 365 different verses in the Bible to address fear. A bunch of them are found in the book of Joshua as he was setting out to do a new thing. Over and over, God tells him, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9 ESV). Like Joshua, I feel as if I’m setting out to do a new thing (telling pieces of my story). Like Joshua, I feel as if I need daily strength and encouragement not to be afraid. 

David also knew all about being in situations where fear was a normal response, yet he reacted like this: 

“In God, whose word I praise,

in God I have put my trust;

I shall not be afraid.

What can mere man do to me?”

Psalm 56:4 (NASB)

Turns out, “mere men” can do quite a bit, but it’s not permanent. Their words are not as powerful as the words of the Almighty God who promises to “redeem the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned” (Psalm 34:22 ESV).

In the end, that’s what I’ve got to cling to: God. He’s been there all along, and He’s certainly not going to fail me now. 

homeschool, organization, organizing, writing

Top Uses for Post-it Flags and Tabs

I can’t believe that I have never written about one of my favorite organization tools. They’re little, but they’re so cute and so versatile. What are they: mini, sticky tabs and flags! A Post-it by any other name is just as sweet (no, this is not a commercial). It usually works just as well, too. Let’s take a look at several different categories in which we can use sticky flags: bookmarks, textbooks, homeschooling, home management, Bible, other stuff.
The most obvious (to me) usage for Post-it flags is as bookmarks. Let’s get a bit more specific, though, then we’ll add to the list.
·         Bookmarks
o   Fiction
o   Non-fiction
o   Citations
o   Sections to reread
·         Textbook markers
o   Start teaching
o   Extra study
o   Instead of highlighting in borrowed books
o   Please help, Mom!
o   Assignment
o   Quick reference
§  Vocab
§  Abbreviations
§  Check lists
·         Bible markers
o   Teaching
o   Studying
o   Memorizing
o   Witnessing
·         Manuals for quick reference
·         Start/stop workbook sections
·         Corrections in homework to be done
·         Instead of tabbed dividers in 3-ring binders
·         Mark information in file folders
·         Sign here designations
·         Mark important information for others (boss) to read/note
·         On calendar/by door for stuff to take out the door
·         To do
o   In a book
o   On a steering wheel
o   On a calendar
o   Beside the door
·         Mark musical selections in a longer piece of music
·         Favorite recipes
·         Grocery lists
·         Wrap around toothpicks for herb/plant markers and cupcakes
Disclaimer: while I love these little guys like nobody’s business, I did a quick poll of some friends, who graciously added to my list.
Q4U: What are your favorite uses for Post-it flags?

homeschool, organization, organizing, writing

How to Prettify Plain, Cardboard Magazine Holders

I’m cheap. (Really, Mum, even though I know you don’t believe it!) So when I needed magazine holders, I went to Ikea and bought the 5-pack of cheap, flat (to assemble), white, cardboard file holders. Sorry I can’t remember how much they cost, but 5 were way cheaper than 1 of the expensive, brand-name ones at an office supply store. 
But plain, white cardboard is so boring. So, I took some contact paper, cut it a few inches wider than the  width of the holder, and voila: a prettified magazine holder! Then I printed labels for the contents onto my pretty Martha Stewart labels so I can tell at a glance what’s in each holder.
Above, you can see what several of them look like next to each other on my bookshelf. Below you can see how I wrapped the contact paper around the edges of the back so as to prevent it from peeling off.
I saved money and completed a DIY project. What could be better?

homeschool, lessons learned, writing

Be In Style: Say Thank You

 Is it just me, or are thank you notes (the paper kind you hold in your hand) becoming obsolete? Are they following the dwindling number of friendly letters and Christmas letters and cards that used to stuff our mailboxes? Well, my mum (she’s Canadian, but I thought the southern phrase more apropos for the title) taught me to acknowledge every gift with a handwritten thank you note. If your techno-kids balk, here are some inspirations to help reinstate the good old-fashioned thank you note.

1. Don’t restrict Thanksgiving to a single day or month. On the contrary, the fact that Thanksgiving comes exactly a month before the day when kids get overloaded with new toys, books, and electronic gadgets should prime them for even more thankfulness.

2. Someone—grandparent, aunt, sibling, parent—took the time to pick out a special gift for each child in your home. The least a child can do in return is to take the time to handwrite note acknowledging appreciation for the gift and for the thought that went into its purchase.

3. Yes, grandparents know that little Jimmy just loved the Tonka truck, but writing a thank you note is kind of like saying “I love you.” You know it, but it’s still nice to hear frequently.

4. The Bible leads the way in encouraging thankful attitudes. “Offer to God thanksgiving” (Psalm 50:14a NJKV). “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name” (Psalm 100:4, NKJV). “Giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20 NKJV).

5. You can count writing thank you notes as a school project! Just look at all the subjects you’ll cover: grammar (proper letter forms and written grammar), handwriting, art (if they design their own), spelling, and etiquette (it is good manners to write thank you notes).

6. Let’s face it: the kids will be looking for something to do in between Christmas and New Year’s Day. The novelty of the new toys will wear off about two days after they’re opened and writing thank you notes can help fill in the time gap before you’re ready to jump back into formal lessons in January.

7. Many children enjoy designing their own cards or drawing pictures. The recipients will enjoy seeing those pictures and cards on their refrigerators. This works especially well with children who are too young to write complete sentences; they can draw pictures of themselves playing with their new toys.

How many ways can you say thank you? Shukran Gazillan, Thoinks, Moite! Wado, Xie_Xie, Merci, Danke sehr, Mahalo, Köszönöm, Grazie, Cheers, Salamat, Spasiba, Tapadh Leat, Gracias a todos, Tesekkurler, Thanks y’all! (Other languages courtesy of e-Tailers Digest.)

(It’s a repost because I have to remind my own kids to write Christmas thank you notes every year, and I’m sure you do, too!)

homeschool, learning styles, study skills, writing

How to F.O.C.U.S.

Forget trying to get the kids to focus, I’m the one having problems concentrating! So, here are a few tips to help moms (or anyone else) focus on the task at hand, which will enable you to finish sooner.

F – FACEBOOK (Twitter, blogs, email, etc.) = NOT! Turn it off for a while!

O – ONE thing at a time. Even for multitasking mom mavens, it’s best to concentrate on doing one thing WELL at a time. You’ll find that you’re really more efficient in the long run.

C – CONCENTRATE on whatever is in front of you. Don’t be distracted by the T.V., kids jumping on the trampoline, or the cats chasing each other. Bonus: CAFFEINE helps–sometimes. You know yourself; if it helps, have some. If not, don’t.

U – UNDERSTAND that you will have interruptions no matter how good your intentions (and/or instructions) are. Sometimes your own thoughts will interrupt you with other things you have to do; write down whatever pops into your mind so you can get it out of your head and focus on what you’re supposed to be doing.

S – STAY on task for a specified length of time or until you meet a certain goal. Make short goals (to write 1,000 words, to clean 1 kitchen cabinet, to make 1 project, or whatever), meet each goal, then take a short break. Bonus: SLEEP. It’s a good thing. Get some.

Today’s confession: I scribbled the outline for this post while I was trying to focus on another writing project!

Q4U: What are your best tips for focusing on the task at hand?

learning styles, organization, writing

Blog Posts Organized the Simple Way

It happened again. You had a great idea for a blog post, so you scrawled it on a sticky note. The toddler found it and colored over it, then the teenager helpfully threw it out. Or, you managed to remember the idea long enough to put it at the bottom of a messy list buried somewhere on your dining room table. After the kids go to bed, in the 5 minutes before you collapse, you decide to sit down and tap out a blog post. You drum your fingers on the edge of your laptop for a few minutes, thinking, then you finally find your crumpled list, complete with peanut butter.

That’s great, but then you see the next topic on the list and you just do not have in mind to write about that right now. So, you scribble out that and squeeze in a new idea. While you’re at it, you decide to jot down a few more thoughts for blog articles somewhere on the page. By the time you get around to actually writing, you’re down to three minutes before collapse.
writing calendar
There is a better way! I used to do the above process until I came across this nifty monthly dry-erase board at Office Max (maybe? or maybe it was Staples?) for $2. I didn’t really need another calendar, but I was sure that I needed that little dry-erase board! It has a string hanger, or it can lean against a wall (or bookshelf). It’s light and not too large. It’s also double sided; the other side is blank for notes and I’ve posted my yearly goals there.

Anyway, I decided to use my new find for my writing command center. In addition to blogging, I write for several magazines and websites; I write reviews, and I’m taking grad school classes with multiple papers due. I chose to use a different color dry erase marker for each place I write for, but you could color code your topics or just use one color. First I write in when my fixed due dates are for magazines, websites, and school. Some of those get repurposed as blog posts, which I note on my board. Then I fill in the blanks with other ideas.

I’ve chosen to blog only twice a week [usually]; with my other responsibilities, I can’t take on more than that usually. Whatever your schedule is, stick to it as much as possible so your readers know what to expect.

If an unexpected review or topic pops up, I just erase & rewrite. No mess, no crumpled paper, no missing sticky note. I can see at a glance what I have planned for the month and what I still need to work on; a check mark beside the title means it’s already written and ready to go.

No $, no dry erase board? Print out a generic monthly calendar from your computer and use pencil.

Q4U: How do you organize your blog posts?

anxiety, encouragement, homeschool, planning, writing

What’s Next?

What should I do next? That question has often left me in a tizzy trying to figure out which item on my very-important-to-do-right-now list ought to be the next thing to receive my attention. Yes, I’ve read the books on prioritizing. Yes, I usually make a physical, written list of all that needs to be accomplished in a day. But, my lists always seem to have the word urgent beside each item. How do I choose what to do next?
A few months ago as I was cleaning out some files, I can across a copy of a page out of an old devotional book that was sent to me by my mother years ago. It contains an ancient poem that sums up what one must do on those occasions when it seems impossible to do anything. It simply says to do the next thing. I’m going to take the liberty of quoting the poem in its entirety here. The original author is anonymous.
          Doe the Nexte Thynge

From an old English parsonage down by the sea
There came in the twilight a message to me;
It’s quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven,
Hath, it seems to me, teaching from heaven.
And on through the hours the quiet words ring
Like a low inspiration: “DOE THE NEXTE THYNGE.”
 Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment, let down from Heaven,
Time, opportunity, guidance, are given.
Fear not tomorrows, child of the King,
Trust them with Jesus, doe the nexte thynge.
 Do it immediately, do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand
Who placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ’neath His wing,
Leave all resulting, doe the nexte thynge.
 Looking to Jesus, ever serener,
Working or suffering, be they demeanor;
In His dear presence, the rest of His calm,
The light of His countenance be thy psalm,
Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing.
Then, as he beckons thee, doe the nexte thynge.

Did you have plans that got shot out of the water before 9 a.m. today? Me too. “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). Is your hand empty? “For I, the Lord your God, will hold your right hand, saying to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you’” (Isaiah 41:13). Still not sure where to turn next? Isaiah 30:21 makes it clear that God will show you which direction to go—if you listen to him. “Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it.’”
So, what’s next? Is the baby’s diaper emanating a stench? Change it. Is your fifth grader stuck on the mysteries of making equivalent fractions? Teach her how. Will your husband be home for dinner in an hour? Put supper in the oven. Find the next thing to do, and then do it. The longer you spend agonizing over what to do, the more time you waste. Just do the next thing.