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Have you recorded family stories of miracles, large and small? Have you told your children and grandchildren of the dark night of your soul when you called out to the Lord with all your heart and knew, perhaps for the first time, that He was real, and that He loved you? Have you written the experience in your journal? If you died tomorrow, how many important stories would die with you? Are you showing how much you value the family stories that validate the caring and amazing interventions of the Lord in the lives of your ancestors as well as your own? If you never had another chance, what would you most regret not saying, not writing?
My dear friend, Patricia Potts asked herself those questions and decided to write “Why I Believe What I Believe,” a compilation of the experiences that have most influenced and shaped her testimony. She printed the ten pages and gave them to each of her children and grandchildren with a promise to add more later.
I asked myself those questions years ago and began compiling our family’s most faith-promoting experiences. My son’s paternal line goes back to Ephraim K. Hanks, and I summarized some of the miracles in his life, his gift of healing and his testimony of spiritual protection. Over the past decade or so I’ve gathered the best stories I could find from our ancestors, stories of dreams and divine intervention, healing, and protection. Of course the stories I know best are my own. I’ve selected stories that I hope will best proclaim my testimony of God’s power in our lives, of His love for us individually, and His caring for us in times of adversity. I told of the priesthood blessing that spared my life when I was seriously burned as baby. I told of the miracle of my first husband’s survival in a plane crash and the power of the Comforter we felt in the aftermath. I told of my experience of feeling the joy of a great-grandmother when I was her proxy in temple ordinances and how it made the spirit world so real to me. With each story my intent was to let my words ring out my deepest feelings of gratitude for the Lord’s constant awareness of His children and His wisdom in intervening in ways He alone knows are for our best good. I called this compilation A Heritage of Heavenly Help and finally decided it was time to share it.
Giving this compilation to my family is part of my effort to follow Elder Holland’s counsel in his April 2003 General Conference talk, “A Prayer for the Children”: “Live the gospel as conspicuously as you can. Keep the covenants your children know you have made. Give priesthood blessings. And bear your testimony! ( See Joseph Smith, comp., Lectures on Faith (1985), 37 for a defining statement on the parental power of human testimony.)
Don’t just assume your children will somehow get the drift of your beliefs on their own. The prophet Nephi said near the end of his life that they had written their record of Christ and preserved their convictions regarding His gospel in order ‘to persuade our children … that our children may know …” Elder Holland references not only 2 Nephi 25, “For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ and to be reconciled to God. . . but 2 Nephi 25: 26, : And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” Could the importance of sharing our faith-promoting stories and testimonies be made any more clear?
More Reasons We Should Share Our Stories
Most of us feel that our lives are relatively simple, uninteresting, mundane. “Why would anyone want to read about me?” we say. But oh, what I wouldn’t give for a few pages written by either of my grandmothers or grandfathers who died before I was born or when I was tiny. I want so much to know them, and I have so little to go by.
A talk given by George Durrant inspired and uplifted and motivated me to write my personal history. Years ago I called him and asked permission to quote from that talk and share it with others. Gracious, as always, he said he’d be honored. His talk started with a reminder that even simple folk have interesting histories. He said,
Do you remember seeing a movie called Camelot? There was something in that movie about people such as me. It was a song which went like this: ‘What do the simple folk do?’ Now that’s where I fit into the story. If I had lived in King Arthur’s day, I would have been one of those simple folk that King Arthur wondered about when he sang that song.
I can see myself as one of the simple peasants who lived three miles north of the Camelot city limits. King Arthur, riding on a white horse and accompanied by several knights, is passing by my thatched cottage. He passes and looks over at me. I’m playing basketball with my children on a court that I had smoothed out near my small garden. My children are laughing and shouting, ‘Daddy, Daddy!’ King Arthur reins in his horse, pauses quite awhile, and watches. The knights say, ‘Let’s go, King.’ He replies, ‘Just a second or two.’ And then slowly he rides away to make some more history. But in his heart as he moves silently toward his castle, he remembers me, and I think he would say to his knights, ‘Who was that man?’ They’d say, ‘Who cares?’ He’d reply, ‘Those children seemed to care.’ And do you know what? I think the king would be jealous of me.
Yes, I, like many of you, am among the simple folk who could be envied by a king but whose life appears at first glance and even second glance to be rather routine. . . . We simple folk may not have found our way into the public limelight, but we were always thinking and feeling and hoping and dreaming. And those things and our struggles and our private victories, even though small, make our life story one of captivating interest to all those who love us and especially to our families.
What Have You Written Down?
What records do we have that we might ask God to preserve for our loved ones to read? Have we written first what we want to last? Have we written our testimonies on paper? When was the last time we wrote a heart-felt letter of love and concern to a loved one? Are we keeping a personal journal? Have we written our own personal history? What records would you like God to preserve for your posterity to read?
Journals as Tools
I received an e-mail from one reader concerned that her journal was full of trivial things that no one would want to read—and wondering what we should be writing in our journals and what should be taken from journals into our personal and family history. I gleaned the following information from a handout from a class on that subject.
Guidelines for Writing in Your Journal
A journal should contain daily or weekly entries of current meaningful personal experiences. It could include:
- Goals, hopes, and aspirations
- Work experiences
- Problems and how they were resolved
- Joys and sorrows with family members
- Relationships with others
- Deepest thoughts
- Faith-promoting experiences
- Significant family events
- Triumph over adversity
- Personal Testimony
- Counsel for future generations who might read your journal
Now, I keep another kind of journal as well—I call it my therapy writing. I don’t write it to be read by anyone else—in fact, sometimes I write a line, write the next line over it and when the page is full I tear it out of the notebook, crumple the page and throw it in the trash. I have no desire to preserve my anger and hurt and doubt and fear for future generations—but writing is the best way to get it out. And writing about my dilemmas often brings me new insights and sometimes even personal revelation which I do want to record in my real journal.
You might want to keep two kinds of journals like I do to avoid recording too much detail and too many trivialities in the journal we want preserved. Usually on Sunday I look back at a week’s events and record in my real journal what seems most meaningful. If I go more than a week I forget important things and get my days all mixed up in my head. So weekly works best for me.
Mining the Gold from Our Journals
From our journals we can later mine golden stories and thoughts for our personal histories and our “heritage of heavenly help.” Of course, a personal history can be written strictly from recall—but if your recall is as cloudy as mine, you will be grateful for any poignant details you wrote at the time. I am in the mining stage. I am slowly going back and re-reading my journals. What a delight to come across details I had forgotten—even if it was dead grasshoppers in a little boy’s pocket or baby teeth marks in the cheese.
My gratitude for life increases as I read my journal entries. Sometimes the entries were far apart—for instance when the demands of life with several tiny children left little time for writing. But I’m so grateful that I wrote anything at all. Not only will my personal history be richer, but I’m gleaning stories and quotes about each child to add to their early histories. I hope the memories I have of them before they were old enough to remember, plus the memories my journal entries will bring back to their minds, will someday be precious to them.
The best thing I’m finding in my journals is faith and frequent witness of heavenly help. Every word I read about my faith-promoting experiences of years ago fans the fires of my current faith. We all need huge bonfires of faith right now to protect us from the wolves of the world. What better thing could I do for my posterity than record and preserve these words of faith!
Writing a Personal History Brings Self-Understanding
George Durrant recorded more reasons to work on your personal history. He said,
You can gain self-understanding by writing a personal history. My life, as yours, is like a long series of experiences stacked one on top of another. Each experience, great or seemingly small, is like a number that is part of an almost never-ending series of numbers in an addition problem in mathematics—experiences that can be added up, the sum total of which is not just a number. Instead, it is you—wonderful, unique, interesting you.
Writing a Personal History Brings Gratitude
Brother Durrant also tells us that writing a personal history can bring a sense of gratitude. He tells of his confusion about choosing a major in college; he liked art, but was afraid to pursue it. He finally took a painting class. When his first painting was critiqued by the class several negative comments were made, but one girl said, “I like the way George did the sky.” That one validation gave him something to hang onto—the encouragement he needed to become an artist. He said,
I relate this story for a reason: first because it was one of those landmark experiences in my life, and second because it offers a real key to writing a personal history.
As you look at your life, always look for the sky. Look for the clear, blue, gorgeous, glorious things that have happened. And that doesn’t mean you leave out the heartaches and the heartbreaks. But somehow there’s a sky in every picture. Find it and describe it. That’s what makes a personal history live—how you felt, how you struggled, how you won, how you endured.
And when you describe these things, gratitude will fill your whole soul, and grateful people always have been and always will be happy people. Writing a personal history can attract gratitude as a magnet attracts metal.
Writing a personal history can, if you approach it positively, give you such a feeling—not that life has always been rosy or free from pain, misery, sorrow, and heartbreak. But amidst all that, there have been the tender, heartfelt experiences, relationships, and insights that make each one who considers his total life experiences want to cry out: ‘Why me? Why has so much that is so tender and kind and good come into my life?’
Your Personal History Becomes Part of Your Family History
Brother Durrant says,
With the passage of time, a personal history becomes a part of a body of recorded information which becomes the family history. When we read the histories of those who make up our family tree or our pedigree, we once again receive the blessing of self-understanding.
A birth certificate proves that you were born. A personal history proves that you lived—you really lived. A pedigree chart proves your ancestors were born. A family history proves that they lived and because of them you can live.
President Ezra Taft Benson said, “We call upon you to pursue vigorously the gathering and writing of personal and family histories. In so many instances, you alone have within you the history, the memory of loved ones, the dates and events. In some situations you are the family history. In few ways will your heritage be better preserved than by collecting and writing your histories (Ensign, Nov. 1989).”
Back to Brother Durrant:
One day recently while I shaved, I softly said to the reflection in the mirror: ‘That face is not original with me.’ It was not shaped by my victories or defeats or joys or sorrows alone. That face was born before I ever drew a breath. That classic nose is far more prominent than I am. It began with my great-grandfather, or was it his father or his? My brown eyes were colored by my grandmother, or her mother or hers. My height came from my mother and her tall father and his. ‘Yes,’ I said to myself, ‘there I am in the mirror, but I am not really just me.’ I am made up of my own personal and peculiar blend of an ancestral reservoir: a little bit of him and a touch of her and a sprinkling of him and quite a dose of her, all of whom lived on, two, and even twenty generations ago. Did my ancestors ever, in a moment of vision, see my reflection in their mirror as I, in a moment of memory, can see theirs in mine? So, my dear ancestors, here I sit looking into the reflections of the past. Now that I know you, for the first time I know myself.
Brother Durrant looks ahead, thinking of his grandson reading his life stories to his great-grandchildren and saying, “We’ve got a great family, kids. We’ve got a great heritage. I want each of you to keep writing down what’s happened to you. Put it in a book so that we can keep our family heritage alive because it’s one of the most important things we have.”
Now Is the Time
The great histories have been written. It’s now time to write the histories of the heart. The histories of the simple folk. Histories that have occurred, not on the battlefront or in Parliament, but histories that have taken place within the walls of our own homes. Histories which would make kings say, ‘I wish I could have lived that way.’ These histories form a seedbed in which all other histories grow. . . .
There is only one person in all the world who can write your personal history, and that person is you. If you don’t write your history, it might be written by someone else. Then it will be a history, but it sure won’t be personal. And if it isn’t personal, much of its impact will be lost.
Promises to Claim
Money could never buy such a sacred possession as the recorded influence of the Lord in your life. Nothing else you could give your grandchildren could be half so important as your testimony written as only you can write it. President Spencer W. Kimball said, “People often use the excuse that their lives are uneventful and nobody would be interested in what they have done. But I promise you that if you will keep your journals and records they will be a source of great inspiration to your families, to your children, your grandchildren, and others, on through the generations (Ensign, Nov. 1978).”
I, for one, am anxious to claim that promise by recording and sharing my own personal heritage of heavenly help! Won’t you claim it too?