I kept an almost daily journal on my mission, which has been a delightful source of memories in the years since. But the inclination to record my life experiences diminished after my return home, and between 1967 and 1978 I have very little information about my life. Those eleven years, and the years that passed before my mission, are a testimony to me of the truthfulness of my sister’s declaration, “If you do not keep a journal, the past crumbles behind your feet.” Those unrecorded years are mostly dust, dried up and blown away by the eroding winds of time until only events of life-changing magnitude remain in my memory.
But in 1978 I read an article from the August 1977 Reader’s Digest (pages 7-16) by James A. McCraken, called “Write Your Own History.” That article is at the front of the first of a collection of journals that now numbers nearly 180 volumes. The day I read that piece from the Digest thirty-five years ago, I began again to keep a journal. The volumes are filled my own reflections and insights, and with photos, newspaper articles, and letters.
One important reason for writing is suggested in the following quote, also from The Reader’s Digest:
A journal is more than a memory goad. It’s therapeutic. The simple act of opening a notebook to put words down stills the crosscurrents of worry, drawing to focus the essential thought patterns that best define us, intersecting those thoughts with the condition of our life at that exact moment. A journal is one of the few anchors the human condition allows us (Randy Wayne White, Sept. 1995, p. 191).
My journals have been an anchor for me, offering me therapy and an enduring perspective of the things that matter most. For example, I have learned that bad grades are not the end of the world. I wrote this about one son: “If he graduates from High School, it will be a miracle comparable to the dividing of the Red Sea.” But he did graduate and go to college, and now has a wonderful family and a great job.
I have learned that a call from the police is not the end of life as we know it. We got a call about a son who had made a mistake, but who is now a marvelous father and who is in demand in his profession.
I have learned how precious a record of brief but wonderful moments with children can be. I wrote one evening about my three-year old daughter racing across the carpet to hug my leg when I got home from work. On another evening I wrote about my 13-year-old son going off to collect fast offerings even though he had recently broken his arm and was in significant pain. When I asked him why he was going he replied, “The Lord said Do your job.’ He didn’t say Do your job unless your arm is broken.'”
I have learned other anchoring truths, which are in my loose leaf journals. Over the past three years I have been scanning and indexing those journals so that I can find things and so that I will not lose everything if there is a fire or other natural disaster.
The project has taken much longer than I expected because I keep slowing down to reflect on what I have recorded. I have managed to complete the first 44 volumes and I have loved the experience.
I have looked at hundreds of photos of family members from earlier days. In addition to my own musings, I have read letters and notes and school papers and poetry. I found a school paper one daughter wrote about the birth of our youngest child, a sweet and tender expression of love for her mother, who spent weeks in the hospital trying to save the expected baby. The loss of that paper and those sentiments would have been both a tragedy and a travesty.
I have found so many marvelous memories, and a multitude of spiritual experiences. With an index, I will be able to locate them when I need them. President Spencer W. Kimball said,
From these records you can also appropriately draw as you relay faith-promoting stories in your family circles and discussions. Stories of inspiration from our own lives and those of our forebears as well as stories from our scriptures and our history are powerful teaching tools. I promise you that if you will keep your journals and records they will indeed be a source of great inspiration to you, each other, your children, your grand.-children, and others throughout the generations (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball: pp. 349-350).
For Christmas each of the past two years, I have given my children collections of quotes from my journals, which I have called Snapshots. Some have been humorous; some have been thoughtful; some have been spiritual. Each quote has been accompanied by a photo related to the material. Here is one example, which was accompanied by a photo of my wife and me:
9 February 1992
The kids have a misunderstanding about who is in charge in this home. This is due to a lack of perception of the way in which Mom and I have divided the decision-making responsibilities in the family. I will therefore explain: Lydia makes all the little decisions and I make all the big ones. She decides when to buy new cars and new clothes and new houses. She decides when to vacation and where to vacation. I decide whether or not the earth will rotate regularly on its axis. I decide whether or not sufficient solar radiation will reach the earth to sustain life. I decide whether or not the polar ice caps will melt. I decide whether or not the tide will come in and whether or not the stars will come out. It is a perfect arrangement. If she makes a mistake on a decision, it is not a huge trauma. If I make a mistake, life on earth as we know it may come to a grinding halt. And the kids think she is in charge! Well. Let them have their little delusion. What can it hurt?
I am working on volume 3 for the coming Christmas as I continue to scan and index my journals.
I believe we must be faithful in this matter of journal-keeping.
A lot of people start journals but enthusiasm for the project often seems to diminish with the passing of time. But it is important to write, and to write details. We will not remember the things we think we will remember when the years of our lives have crumbled. Here is a principle: We can always ignore information we don=t need, but we cannot use information we don=t have.
Oliver Huntington shared feelings about the lack of information regarding his father’s life. He said:
“Many times have I wished that my father had kept an account of his life, that I might look over it, and see his by?gone days, deed and fortune; and never did he make the scratch of a pen towards it, until he had seen sixty cold winters; and as yet I know but very little of his life, not enough to make any record of . . . Like men in general I presume to suppose, that I shall have a posterity; and that may; like me; wish to know of their father’s life, that they might view it, and perhaps profit thereby, or at least, have the satisfaction of knowing it”(Oliver Huntington Autobiography, Special Collections, BYU).
There is another reason to keep records: Joseph Smith said “We should be prompt in keeping daily journals. Your journals will be sought after as history and scripture” (Lyndon Cook and Andrew F. Ehat: The Words of Joseph Smith, p. iv).
When my fourth son was serving his mission in El Salvador, I got a call from our ward clerk. He was reviewing membership records and had discovered a problem. There was no record of my son’s baptism or confirmation. I told him that I was certain that both had taken place since he was an elder and currently in the mission field.
I volunteered to fly to Central America at Church expense and perform the ordinances. He was not delighted by that suggestion and wondered if I might have any information he could use.
I did a little mental math and figured out when Adam turned eight and pulled a loose leaf notebook off the shelf. I then told him the day Adam was baptized, who performed the ordinance, when he was confirmed, and who stood in the circle.
That was good enough. He wrote the information he needed into the record and sent it to Salt Lake. “Your journals will be sought after as history and scripture.”
Other powerful reasons for journal-keeping came from Orson Pratt:
“[If every person had] kept a faithful record of all that he had seen, heard, and felt of the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, the church would now have been in the possession of many thousand volumes, containing much important and useful information. How many thousands have been miraculously healed in this church, and yet no one has recorded the circumstances. Is this right? Should these miraculous manifestations of the power of God be forgotten and pass into oblivion? Should the knowledge of these things slumber in the hearts of those who witnessed them, and extend no further than their verbal reports will carry them?. . . We should keep a record because Jesus commanded it. We should keep a record because the same will benefit us and the generations of our children after us. We should keep a journal because it will furnish many important items for the general history of the church which would otherwise be lost” (Millennial Star, 11:153).
Let me conclude with this admonition from a prophet who spoke often about the importance of keeping a journal.
“We hope you will begin as of this date. If you have not already commenced this important duty in your lives, get a good notebook, a good book that will last through time and into eternity for the angels to look upon. Begin today and write in it your goings and your comings, your deeper thoughts, your achievements, and your failures, your associations and your triumphs, your impressions and your testimonies. We hope you will do this, our brothers and sisters, for this is what the Lord has commanded, and those who keep a personal journal are more likely to keep the Lord in remembrance in their daily lives” (The New Era, Dec. 1980, p.27).