A good journal is more than just a dumping ground

By Katie Galyean, Special to The Vision

Hipsters are not usually seen counseling people, running college campus ministries or wearing cheetah print pants, but that is exactly what Ruth McWhite does.

Having started journaling in 1978, McWhite started her journaling journey before it was considered cool. She said, “I still have [my first] journal, actually. [I received it] before the days of journaling. You didn’t see empty, blank books on every corner.”

Learning the correct way to journal took McWhite a few years. She said, “When I first started journaling, at that point, I thought the best thing to do was to use my journal as a great dumping ground.”

McWhite explained that she would write down all her frustrations during her early years of motherhood in her journal. She found that writing down all of these thoughts was therapeutic and helped her concentrate on other tasks.

McWhite continued to explain the problem with that method. “When [my oldest son] turned five and I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, my child is growing up, let me go back and read my journals.’ I realized they were nothing but complaints.”

Not wanting her children to grow up and think that she was an ungrateful or bitter mother, McWhite now makes sure to begin every paragraph with thanks to God.

“I don’t say thank you for those things to be a hypocrite. I say thank you for those things simply to be obedient,” McWhite clarified.

McWhite said that one of the benefits to being thankful in her journal entries is God really helps her to have a grateful heart. Sometimes she has to think and pray about how she can be thankful for a situation, but she always ends with an appreciative heart.

Since getting her start in journaling, McWhite has been able to develop her writing into a daily ritual.

“Some days I write a paragraph, some days I write pages. Some days I smile through my whole journal, some days I weep. But every day I write something,” she explained.

McWhite has several different journals that she keeps going – four in total.

The first journal McWhite described sounded very similar to the general idea of a journal. She said, “When I journal, I will write today about yesterday.” In this journal, McWhite writes what happened the previous day in the form of a prayer.

McWhite said she first started this style of journaling when she was a seminary student. “It’s not just me writing thoughts. In my mind, I am really talking with Jesus.”

To describe this type of journaling, McWhite said, “It is a record of the day before that is constantly seeking perspective… For me, to journal helps me to gain perspective on what is going on.”

McWhite explained her second journal as a daily recording of gifts from God. In it, she writes one sentence about a blessing she received that day. “I’m up to about 2000 [blessings] right now,” said McWhite. “Typically, everyday I will write at least five things.”

To give an example, McWhite said one entry she penned read, “Thank You, God, that yesterday we had company for lunch and we didn’t get up from the table until 5:15. A pretty good indicator that our company was unbelievably sweet.”

McWhite got this journaling technique from author Ann Voskamp, who wrote the popular book “One Thousand Gifts.” In the book, Voskamp tells of some of her own personal experiences that taught her how to be grateful in all situations and encourages others be thankful through life.

The other two journals McWhite keeps are for moments where God absolutely amazes her and for writing down scriptures that mean something in her life.

Everyone from one of the Christian organizations that McWhite works with was given a blank journal at the beginning of year. “We were told to write only things in that journal that we found amazing. Ways that God had just amazed us. When we go for the next board meeting, we will share something from this journal [with each other],” explained McWhite.

“I also have a journal that is specifically for scripture. In that journal, I will scribe my scripture,” said McWhite. This is where she will write down word for word a verse that was meaningful to her and a paragraph to explain why it stood out.

McWhite does have a favorite place to write down her thoughts. “My wonderful red chair,” she revealed. “It’s where I have my quiet time everyday.”

This chair is a leather recliner where McWhite’s mother used to sit and spend time throughout the day.

McWhite does not think that physical location makes much difference in your journaling, but the time of day you do your writing might.

She explained, “It is a part of those early morning hours [that I do my journaling]. If I try to record my thoughts in the middle of the day, it is not anywhere near as clear or precise or helpful as if I journal in the morning.”

McWhite is the head of women’s campus ministries at North Greenville University. She is in charge of the chaplain program and regularly meets with several different girls to see how their week has gone and help them by giving biblical advice, often suggesting writing everything down in a personal journal.

McWhite encourages everyone to start a journal. “It’s the only reason I don’t have to pay a counselor on a weekly basis. I can get those thoughts out of my head