Tucked neatly away in my bureau drawer is a one-year diary with a bright red cover. On the front is a name: Miss Frypan. My roommate gave me that diary the first year I started teaching school, and there it sits, empty.
I like the name she put on it and for a good reason. During my student teaching, one of my seventh graders left on the floor a slip of paper on which he had lampooned my maiden name. (I was Miss Fry then.) He had drawn a delightful frying pan with eyes, ears, a nose, and a mouth, and written out to the side was the name, Miss Frypan. I never want to forget my roommate or that drawing. The diary helps me remember, but that is all it does.
On my desk, however, is a large spiral binder (the kind with divisions and pockets). I grabbed it one day when I had things—spiritual things—tumbling around in my head that couldn’t wait to be written. I finished that first entry; from then on I was hooked. The notebook fit me. It was handy and without space restrictions, and I wasn’t afraid to make mistakes in it or add notes or drawings. That notebook became my journal, and it is richer and fuller than that one-year diary ever could have been.
Writers of dictionaries have not made a distinction between diaries and journals, but modern use has. All too often a diarist writes solely for himself. He cramps an outline of his day into six lines and calls it good; occasionally he writes up one daily activity in more detail. But we Mormons are a peculiar people, and we have grown away from that kind of diary and into a special kind of journal.
The desire to keep a journal comes to God’s people as a blessing. It comes to all those who fear the Lord and call upon his name, who speak often one to another and acknowledge God in their lives. These journals, then, when written before the Lord, serve to strengthen lives and family units and become special missionary tools.
Like the Nephites, we must also “labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God.” (2 Ne. 25:23.) And to those of us who remember God in this way, he has promised, “And they shall be mine … in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.” (3 Ne. 24:17.)
All of the examples used in this article are excerpts from journals written by Church members. Because these journalists realize the importance of keeping a record before the Lord, they have agreed to share themselves with you; and by so doing, they hope that you, too, will be blessed with a desire to keep a journal.
A journal is a place to understand yourself, a place to exhaust frustrations, a place to find out who you are, a place where you can rid yourself of crippling emotions. One young lady wrote, “Jealousy! Just to express that deep, hollow feeling relieves me of it. I never realized that writing could do that for me.” (Sharon Lynn Glasser, Monterey, California.) You have no idea either, until you start.
“I want to take this opportunity to tell you, Father, that I know the gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored to the earth. I know you live. I know Jesus Christ lives. I KNOW! I thank you for family; I thank you for friends. I thank you for Tom. I thank you for you.”
Moses Lake, Washington
“Funny, we felt so warm, teary-eyed, almost homesick, yet not, [but] really tender inside, like Heavenly Father had reached out and sensitized that part of us that can truly feel completely.”
Sharon Lynn Glasser
“This is a momentous day. If arms had wings, I should be flying and soaring to the tips of mountains and leaping across rainbows right now. Truly I would, for today I have taught by the Spirit. … My notes were all prepared, I knew it well, but as I stood up, a feeling came to me that I should set the notes aside. … George Q. Cannon’s words were uppermost in my thoughts, that the Spirit is held in check when we write down all that we shall say. I gave myself over then, literally, in my mind, and as the lesson went forth, I felt a power and direction flow inward.”
Judith A. Long
Even though these entries are excerpted, you get a feeling for the person and her message or experience. Such writing will live beyond the present, for it rings of truth.
Not everything these journalists wrote, however, was of high quality. As they wrote more and reread their past entries, though, they began to be more selective about what was worth writing and more conscientious about the manner in which they wrote; and the more they sought after worthwhile entries, the deeper they probed into themselves and their experiences. In short, they grew in the art, and here are some important concepts they learned:
1. Because he will have readers, a true journalist must develop his experiences thoroughly.
An abbreviated comment may trigger the remembrance of a complete experience for you, but it won’t for your readers. They see and feel nothing when you write, “Today was the day I really started to love people.” But if you tell them of your first visit to the home for the aged in your town, if you describe the place and the people, if you write of your feelings—how you reached out with your heart and hands and touched their loneliness—then your audience can walk through those swinging doors with you.
In the following excerpt, Sharon Lynn Glasser does more than tell her readers she received a call to serve in the Relief Society; she takes them into her world and shows them.
“Saturday night, Bonnie Hall, Relief Society president of our branch, called me and asked if I would give the Relief Society lesson in the morning. I said, ‘Okay (gulp),’ and she said to come over and she’d help make visual aids since it was such late notice. When I asked her why she wanted to ask me, she said she’d said a prayer, and my name came to her head. Suddenly I felt peaceful, and I knew that I could give the lesson.
“The lesson was on diseases. A health lesson—how boring, I thought! I really didn’t know what I was going to say. I underlined things in the manual. Bonnie made some adorable looking germs to represent the diseases, and I made signs with the names on them until 2:00 A.M.
“So there I was in front of a roomful of people my own age. (The last class I taught was in Junior Sunday School.) And it was so neat! I know the Lord helped me with that lesson. I was calm and peaceful like I’ve never been before. It seemed so easy.
“I discovered in sacrament meeting that night that all the Relief Society teachers had been called. There was no chance for me now, but I’d get another neat job, I assured myself.
“Sunday night, I was sitting reading, determined I was going to bed early for a change; in fact, I was ready for bed, when the phone rang.
“‘President Kinghorn would like to see you in his office; can you come down?’
“‘Okay, but it’ll be a little while.’ …
“I flew down the hill. And there I was in President Kinghorn’s office.
“We talked a little bit about me, and then he said, ‘You did the wrong thing in Relief Society this morning.’
“I’m sure my eyes got an inch wider. What … what could I have done wrong? I scanned my memory.
“‘You impressed some people.’
“I visibly relaxed.
“‘So we’ve decided to try a new system; our classes are too large, so we’ve decided to call you to be the other Health and Family Living teacher.’
“I was overjoyed! I ran so fast on the way home, I was too out of breath to explain what happened and just plopped myself on Jill’s bed.”
2. Dialogue helps recreate an experience.
Another friend has often heard her grandmother speak about her early years in La Belle, Idaho, about the log cabin and the white-washed walls, about the pieced carpet and the hard life. But there were pleasant hours, too, and instead of telling her journal readers how her grandmother used to spend those hours, she let her grandmother tell it.
“You can’t imagine them, Sharon; why, the earth would be all astiring, and there’d be clouds and clouds of them over your head as far as you could see, and that breeze would wrap you in that heavenly scent. … I used to stroll … thinking and dreaming for hours beneath those apple blossoms.”
3. Intertwining feelings with facts makes interesting, memorable reading.
The next series is long, but I have included it for two good reasons: first, we can learn much about life from someone who has faced death, and second, we can learn about writing journal entries from someone who does it so well. Because Bonnie has given us both event and feeling in her journal, we respond.
“October 12, 1974. Although I didn’t talk directly to them [her parents], the news I heard shocked me. … They were at Sunshine Terrace with my grandpa who had suffered a stroke. … He was in a coma and was partially paralyzed. I really didn’t think about death then, because Gramps had suffered from two strokes before, and I thought he would come out of it.
“Just the same, I think I felt the pain of death. For a split second I pictured a funeral, the viewing, the lines, the people, and a coffin. I quickly erased the thought from my mind, wiped the tears from my eyes, and tried to think of better things.”
“October 16, 1974. Chris [a sister who lives next door to her at school] and I called home today. We couldn’t wait any longer. Mom had just gotten back from Sunshine Terrace when the phone rang. Grandpa was getting steadily worse, and they didn’t see how he made it through the day. He was gasping for each breath, and his hands were turning blue. … The family had gathered that afternoon and had a prayer.”
“October 17, 1974. My Grandpa died last night. It seems strange to write those words, because the full impact hasn’t hit me yet. It was his birthday the day before—77 years old. … The viewing is tomorrow night, and we are planning on leaving right after classes. … I don’t think I see my grandfather gone yet, but when the time comes to seal the coffin and tell him goodbye, I will know. I am so afraid.”
“October 19, 1974. People kept pouring in, most of them elderly. Some had to be assisted in, and others hobbled in on their own. My Grandpa’s brother seemed to be taking it the hardest. He walked over to the coffin and laid his hand on Grandpa’s chest. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he bade farewell to his last living brother. He reminded me so much of Grandpa, it nearly killed me to look at him. His stiff, assured walk and the way he carried himself—the resemblance spoke for itself. …
“It was almost over. Tears fell freely, and as the mortician sealed the casket, I realized that I would not see him in the years ahead. I didn’t want to believe it. As they wheeled the casket into the chapel, I wanted to scream, ‘Bring him back,’ but the lump in my throat allowed barely enough room to breathe. …”
“October 20, 1974. Along the way back to school was the Lewiston Cemetery, so we decided to stop one more time. … We parked the car and hurriedly headed toward the grave. Leaves crackled under our feet and a slight breeze tossed others around. … As I walked around the grave my eyes spotted the temporary marker. ‘Hyrum Sidney Karren, Born October 16, 1897; Died October 17, 1974. …’ I’m beginning to understand a little better now about life and death. …”
“October 23, 1974. I’m getting over the shock of Grandpa’s death now, and only when I think too deeply does it become a reality again.
“What a week! I’ve never had so many tests in my whole life, and all at one time. … So ends another week of mid-terms, and school must go on.”
She might have added, “and so must life,” for that is the understanding she comes to, and her journal captures that feeling.
4. Establishing good habits can increase the value of a journal.
a. Date each entry; then consider whether the day of the week, the time of day, or the immediate environment as you write might be helpful items for your readers to know.
b. Keep your journal near you. You never know when the Spirit will play upon your mind and heart, and you will want to have your journal ready. Taking it on trips and to general conferences is a must.
c. Include both first and last names; then consider if it would be wise to jot down in parentheses the identity of the person. You would be surprised how fast a friend by the name of Marsha can vanish completely from your memory.
d. Set aside a block of time, either daily, weekly, or monthly, when you can reread, ponder, or write in your journal.
e. Number the pages and then make up a table of contents or a topical index.
f. Copy out your patriarchal blessing on the first page and watch for it to be fulfilled in the pages that follow.
g. Save a blank page at the end of each volume for wrap-up comments on people, events, insights, growth.
h. Find a method of recording and keeping entries that feels comfortable to you. Unlined or lined pages, typed or penned entries, notebook, bound book, folder—find what you like and then be consistent.
i. Pray about your journal. Invite the Father in. If you are serious about acknowledging your Heavenly Father’s hand in your life, he will help you fill up the pages.
5. The most meaningful entries are those that reflect the growth of the spirit.
Though you may think that life is slow, that nothing exciting ever happens to you, think again. The journal reflects more than the outer man. At its best, it reflects the inner man; and the exploration of that inner self will enhance many an entry.
Beyond the vital records, the dates and the names, wouldn’t it be better to have a complete record of an event in your life, not only how the event happened but how you felt inside? Wouldn’t it be better to give your progenitors a view of the spiritual person behind the name on their genealogical charts?
Sterling W. Sill writes, “It is likely that one of the finest things that we can do is to have a personal book of remembrance,” and that because “most of our failures come because we forget God. So often we forget our relationship to him and what he wants us to do, and when we forget God and fail to identify with him, then to that extent we are lost.” (The Majesty of Books, Deseret Book Co., 1974, p. 125)
Why not begin to find yourself by exploring the inner you? Feel after your spirit and remember your spiritual Father in the pages of your journal. The following subject headings lend themselves to this kind of search. Choose one of them, and let it spark you into your first entry.
Reflections on general conferences
Answers to prayer
Resolutions, challenges, commitments, and goals
Written sketches of admirable people you wish to emulate or character traits you wish to acquire
Mistakes, trials, or afflictions that make you grow
Significant events in your life or the lives of your family members
Poetry or artwork
Thoughts from speeches, applications of scriptures, or quotes from reading
Understanding of gospel principles
Gratitude for blessings
Pros and cons in the decision-making process
Coping with depression, frustration, and sorrow
Callings to serve
Reflections and aspirations
Repentance and the strivings for forgiveness
Feeling the way I do about journal keeping, I cannot help but be a connoisseur of life experiences; I can not help but believe that my life will be better because I pour it out on the page. Remembering the Lord and savoring the good experiences in my life are spiritually healthy for me, and what I put down today will assume an importance beyond anything I can imagine as I write this.
Similarly, at the moment any of the Father’s children write, none can realize the fruitfulness of such a work.
Susan Larsen of Blackfoot, Idaho, for example, didn’t realize that her entry, written after the birth of her first child, Stephani, would work a miracle for her five years later.
When her second child, Rebecca, was born, five-year-old Stephani was mature enough to sense a shifting away of all the attention. She didn’t understand why it was so, but it was, and she resented it. She became a difficult child. She pouted and whined around the house, until finally Susan went to her.
“You love Rebecca better than me,” Stephani cried. “You do, Mama; you do!”
What Stephani said was just not true, but how could Susan convince her of that fact. Telling her of her love would not truly convince her, but her journal might. So mother and daughter sat down together, and Susan read to her out of her journal.
“January 29, 1967. Yes, the baby finally arrived—an 8 1/2 pound girl. … Steve really beamed about the whole thing. Stephani was born on December 4, at 12:10 A.M., and that same morning, Steve passed around her picture in priesthood meeting. She looks just like him, bless her heart. Although she doesn’t sleep much during the day, she really is a good baby. … We really do love her.”
Through her mother’s journal, Stephani was able to share the birth-light for a few moments with her baby sister. When she was new, she, too, had been the focus of her family’s attention. They had loved her then, and they loved her now. She was happy again.
On October 27, 1973, Elder Mark L. Draney of Shelley, Idaho, was killed in an airplane accident. He had only been home one month from a successful mission in Kansas and Oklahoma, and he really didn’t have a chance to tell his family all about the growth of his testimony or about his converts, his friends, and his companions in the mission field. But his parents have his journal, and it is a great comfort and blessing to them. “It is something of his,” his mother remarked, “a letter to us that we don’t get anymore.”
His parents love all of his journal, but they are especially fond of his “Remember” notes jotted down at the bottom of some of the pages. “Remember: ‘For without me ye can do nothing.’” “Remember: You can’t fail with God.” “Remember: A mission is not two years out of my life, but a great, the greatest two years out of my life.” “Remember: I am a child of God.”
Through these notes, through his motto “To teach is to love,” through his testimony—“It’s great to be here, and I know with every fibre of my body, every inch of it, that the gospel is true and for everyone”—his parents are assured of Mark’s salvation, for, in his journal as in his life, he acknowledged the Savior.
Like Mark and all those whom I have quoted, we, too, must write. We must write for ourselves, for our families, both our immediate families and the generations to come, and for our Father in heaven. And if we write a soul-feeding journal, in five or ten years we will not look back to our writing and wish to destroy the skeleton experiences, the silliness or trivialities that oftentimes crop up in the pages of a diary. Instead, we shall see tremendous growth. We shall see people feeling, praying, testifying, learning, remembering, resolving, relating to others, and setting goals—lots and lots of people living their lives the gospel way.