A Relief Society Lesson on Journal Keeping

Here are my notes and handouts from a Relief Society lesson I taught today in the Yakima 2nd Ward on Journal Keeping:

personal journal with bodhi leaf

RS Journal Lesson in Yakima 2nd Ward, 3 Sept 2017

I’ve thought a lot about the prophet Malachi, the last prophet in the OT, who’s prophecies show up in every single one of our standard works in Epic Moments:

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse (Malachi 4:5-6) (or utterly wasted at his coming. D&C 138:48).

When Malachi spoke of the utter waste that might occur if children and fathers did not turn towards each other, perhaps he meant that lives lived and not recorded would be lives wasted. Nothing would be passed on. No good would come of what went before. Chains would be broken. Pieces would be lost. Mistakes would be repeated. Every death would be like an entire library burning down.

These words have been repeated in every dispensation of time, to every people.
I used to think they meant that at the end of the world, we’d see nuclear fallout with people’s eyes falling out of their sockets and flesh falling from bones.  Now I think it means something very different.

A wonderful storyteller name Donald Davis said, “We are what we remember.
If we don’t remember something, it’s as if it never happened.”

When we write in our journals or record our stories, we are literally Saving Lives–the lives of those who live in those stories.  When the memory is gone, it’s as if those events never happened, or those people never lived.  It’s like our lives or theirs are utterly wasted.

If I try hard my whole life and I learn things, and make mistakes and repent and try again and learn more things, and then I die, leaving no record, my life is of no worth to those who come after I die, because they will not know me or know what I learned.

We must save these lives, ours and those who have gone before us.
Sid Lieberman, another famous storyteller said, “Everyone has a right to exist.”
People exist in stories and in journals and in photos.

Who can tell me one thing you know about one of your ancestors?
Do you wish you knew more? Are you recording things for your posterity that you wish you knew about your ancestors?

Ronald O. Barney, Church History Department:
“If you do not write your story, your name will be obliterated from the human record and you will not speak from the grave. You will not have any influence on those who come after you. Those who write about the things they have done and learned in life have a huge impact on posterity. Write your story. You have overcome things your children need to know about.”

Nothing strengthens my testimony of Journaling more than when I discover and read the journals or personal histories of family members who are gone, or of others who were kind enough to mention my family members in their journals.

How many of you have access to a journal of your parents, grandparents, or ancestors?
If not, what would you give to know more about the details of their lives?
Are you writing now things your posterity will treasure?

Nothing has improved my journaling skills more than some ideas I want to share with you today from Arthur Henry King.  Things he said would be most interesting to generations to come:  Daily routines, things that change, technology, etc.

The things that interest you will interest your children some day.
It interests my sons, that personal computers did not exist when I graduated from HS and that by the time I was in high school I had seen fewer than 10 theater movies in my entire LIFE. Videos would not be invented until I was on my mission.  They find it interesting that nothing in Best Buy today existed when I was their age. Not one thing.
We played music on records, then 8-track tapes, then tape recorders and cassettes. Videos and CDs, cell phones and ipods were all a thing of the future.

It interests my daughter Claire that blow dryers, curling irons, and flat irons did not exist when I was in high school. She finds it strange that I sewed most of my clothes and rode a school bus to school.

Another thing that makes your journal interesting is to mention lots of people –all those who surround you. If you want someone to take an interest in what you have to say, make it interesting to them too–have something to say about their lives.

My mom kept a journal and wrote quite a bit. She handed me a copy of a 30-40 page personal history before she died. She wanted me to read it.  I was given one mention in her history: that I was born. My motivation to read about her life would increase drastically if I were mentioned in it.

I’ve made it a practice to mention in every daily entry where the kids are, or what they are doing or saying.  I like to mention what’s going on in the neighborhood or on the news.  Your words and experiences and comments are of little use to your family members if they are not interesting to them.

It seems to me that we spend most of our lives working hard to surround ourselves with things we can’t take with us, or things that we leave behind that don’t really matter.
Or we fill our minds with information and then we don’t pass it on.
Or we learn really hard lessons and then don’t share what we learned.
Or we have insights that are profound, then forgotten and left unrecorded.
(Our lives become wasted, or of no use to our posterity.)
Or by the time it feels important to write something meaningful, we’ve forgotten the                 details or experiences we once wanted to share.
One of the few things that really does matter is leaving behind our personal
records–our journals, our histories, our photos, our testimonies and experiences.

Do we work hard enough to develop skills that improve how we keep those records?
Do we study and learn and practice being good record keepers?
Do we PRACTICE writing?
Do we try different methods? Different topics? Different mediums?
Do we think about what we want to leave behind and work hard preparing those records?

Writing is a learned skill. The more you do it, the better you get.
I’m a photographer. One of my pet peeves is when someone sees a photo I’ve taken and immediately asks, “What kind of camera do you use?”  Or, “Your camera takes really nice pictures.”  (As if I had nothing to do with the photo, it was all the camera’s doing!)
Ansel Adams once said, “You don’t take a photograph. You make it.”
What makes a good photo? COMPOSITION, not the camera.

Writing is much the same. It takes Practice to learn to become good at it.
Sometimes you’ll hear people say, “But you have a gift for writing.” implying that they don’t.  Please don’t excuse yourself by saying you’re just not good at it.
Challenge yourself to improve. Practice Daily.

You don’t expect a new piano student to sit down and play a concerto.
Don’t expect to sit down and write a masterpiece every day.
It takes practice, and it gets easier and better the more you write.

The worst thing you write is better than the best thing you didn’t write!

Nellie McClung:
I do not want to pull through life like a thread that has no knot. I want to leave something behind when I go; some small legacy of truth, some word that will shine in a dark place.

Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale:
“People disappear when they die. Their voice, their laughter, the warmth of
their breath. Their flesh. Eventually their bones. All living memory of them ceases. This is both dreadful and natural. Yet for some there is an exception to this annihilation. For in the books they write they continue to exist. We can rediscover them. Their humor, their tone of voice, their moods. Through the written word they can anger you or make you happy. They can comfort you. They can perplex you. They can alter you. All this, even though they are dead. Like flies in amber, like corpses frozen in the ice, that which according to the laws of nature should pass away is, by the miracle of ink on paper, preserved. It is a kind of magic.”

Ronald O. Barney
, Church History Department:
“If you do not write your story, your name will be obliterated from the human record and you will not speak from the grave. You will not have any influence on those who come after you. Those who write about the things they have done and learned in life have a huge impact on posterity.
Write your story. You have overcome things your children need to know about.”

Last Thoughts on why I write:
Might not the reverse be true?
Last week in one of my Family History classes I mentioned the feeling I have that it is when I make an effort to know my ancestors and make a connection with them by understanding who they are and how they lived, that they are given or granted permission or access to me. I often sense the presence or influence of loved ones who have gone before. In most cases, I never knew them here, but have learned to love them since. Some I feel especially close to and I feel them particularly near. Perhaps these few are my guardian or ministering angels. Perhaps because I love and care for them, they return love and care for me. I believe in these ministering angels. Elder Holland speaks of the “heavenly help of angels dispatched to bless us in time of need.”(Ensign, Nov. 2008.)
Today it occurred to me that the reverse might also be true. If they are granted permission to be near us because we know them, then might not it follow that if we “leave ourselves behind” in as many ways as we can (words, thoughts, records, journals, photos, etc.) so that our posterity might know us and love us, we will have greater access to them?


Here are the handouts:

Journal Keeping Assignments

1. Take inventory of any and all journals you have kept during your lifetime. They may be in notebooks, loose slips of paper, bound journal books, or in computer files. Start bringing them all into one place. You need to know what you have. Don’t forget the emails you’ve sent to friends or family members. These may be some of the best records you’ve kept. They will be stored in your computer email archives unless you deleted them.

2. FROM NOW ON, when you read, write, or hear something important enough to preserve, start thinking of your journal as the final resting place for those notes or thoughts. If you prefer to write your journal by hand, consider moving into a looseleaf binder so you can add things like printed emails, news articles, or notes you’ve taken elsewhere. If you choose this option, be sure to use quality acid-free paper and a good pen for writing. Start carrying a small note book with you to jot things down in that you will want to write about when you have time. If you use gadgetry, use the notebook features to keep track of these things.

3. Journal assignment: This week write at least 2-3 pages describing YOURSELF as you are right now. Describe your physical appearance from your head to your toes. Describe the things that interest you and the things you spend time doing. Describe things you dislike, or any pet peeves. Include a few lists of things like favorites books, movies, meals, things to wear, or places to go. If there are things in your life that are different today than they were 5 years ago, write about those changes and how you feel about them. Write everything you can that would describe you to someone who has never met you. Try to be as visual or descriptive as you can. Somewhere in this entry, list 5 words that you would use to describe yourself.

4. Read every handout you’ve received this week (especially the Arthur Henry King chapter). Read the emails I’ll send you this week about journal writing. Highlight or make a list of the ideas and suggestions that speak to you and your lifestyle. Start to incorporate these ideas into your thoughts and practices on journal keeping.

5. For the next 4 months commit to write every day for at least 8 minutes. Think of a Really Good Reward to give yourself after you do this.

6. Sometime in the next week or two, make a journal entry entitled: “A Day In the Life Of. . . .” Describe in detail what you are doing every hour of the day, including describing routines like how you do your body grooming, meal preparation, errands you run, etc. Repeat this exercise a couple of times each year.

7. Re-read Alma 37 after our Journal Lesson. Take a few notes on how this doctrine might change your life and the lives of your family members.

8. If you have children at home, or grandchildren, think about how to get them started journaling. You might want to start a FHE journal where each can write something each week. You may want to take them to pick out a fun notebook in a store. You might even want to BRIBE them. 25 cents/page is a small price to pay for the treasures you’ll preserve and habits that will be formed. These records will be Priceless!


Some Good Suggestions
DO – remember that you are writing a journal for several reasons: for your posterity, for a record of your life, as a marker for growth and progress in your life, as a source of inspiration for yourself and others.
DO – write with a black ball point pen. Pencil and colored pens will fade or smudge over time.
DO – always date each entry with Month, Day and Year and sometimes even the time of day.
DO – number the pages.
DO – set aside a block of time either daily or weekly to write like a Sunday afternoon.
DON’T – ever, ever think, “I’ll never forget this day, this person, this lesson, or talk” . . . 40 or 50 years is a long time and you might not be able to remember your phone number let alone who Bobby was in the third grade.
DO – always use a person’s full name at least once. The best thing to do is make a list on the back page of your journal with the full name and a brief reminder description plus nick name used or how you refer to them.
DO – write a couple of sentences about a special lesson, talk, or activity to help you remember it.
DO – take a note of medical history, both personal and family. When did you have your tonsils removed? When did your sister have her baby?
DO – take a note of family events, vacations, weddings, deaths, and special activities.
DO – write about good and bad days. It can be a source of inspiration and comfort for your descendants to see that “Grandma” was human too.
DO – talk about how your observations and feelings about what is going on in your life.
DO – tell about the funny or embarrassiing things that happen in your life, running oover the skunk and stinking out the car on a trip, having your skirt tucked into your panty hose at a church dance .
DO – collect and save important papers, poems, etc.
DO – make a record of music you listen to, movies you watch, books you read, and what you think of them.
DO – write a letter to yourself on your birthday examining what you did with yo ur past year and making goals and wishes for the coming year.
DO – take note of the prices of things, how much is a hamburger, a gallon of milk, stamps, a candy bar, ticket to the movies, etc.
DO – record typical outings with your family and friends. in 100 years they will think it quaint that you would spend Saturdays walking around the mall with your friends.
DO – be honest about yourself. DON’T lie – you will read it later and kick yourself for not telling the truth to yourself and your posterity.
DON’T – treat your journal as some kind of holy thing that you can only put deep thoughts in.
This is about your REAL life.
DO – pick up and write each night. If you forget one night, don’t give up, just catch up the next night.
DO – Be merciful to others. Don’t write gossip or trash about others.
DO – add letters, cards, awards received etc to your journal.
DO – write about deaths, births, marriages, baptisms, and endowments; personal triumphs, failures and struggles and how they are met, personal counsel, promises, and blessings received and the circumstances surrounding them, important events, personal feelings, impressions, current local, national and world events that impress you or influence your life and last but not least simple occurrences in your daily life.


Arthur Henry King on Journal Writing and Personal Histories
From The Abundant Life, Bookcraft, 1986, pp.231-236.

The important thing to remember when writing a personal history or keeping a journal is that our descendants will be interested in the kinds of things that most interest us in the personal histories or journals of others. What kinds of things are these? First of all, the details of everyday life–details like our kitchen procedures and the way we treat our young children–because these things change so very much over the years. We are writing for posterity, and that posterity may extend for hundreds of years, and we can be sure that in one or two hundred years’ time those details will be very different indeed. Our descendants will also be interested in the fundamental things–the truly fundamental things–birth, death, and marriage. So we also need to leave them true accounts of the most important things that happen to us.

Our descendants will want to know what seems old and ridiculous to us, what seems new and interesting, what surprises us, what distresses us, what bores us, but above all, what interests us. They will want to know about our reactions to events, people, situations.

Our descendants will be interested in our genuine reactions, opinions, and feelings, not our conventional ones. . . When we write we need to be ourselves. We should not be misled by any teaching or cultural message we have received about being artificially cheerful or artificially anything. And we should not dismiss unpleasant matters from our minds. They must be faced, and our own responsibility for them must be assessed. Our responsibility is to tell the truth. We may need to reflect on how to put it down, but we should never reflect on how it will strike others, including our descendants. It is not for us to judge what we think will be good for them to read and what we think will not be good for them to read. The ways of salvation are not the ways of persuasion, but the ways of conviction. If we try to be truthful (and this is one of the few things we should try to be), then we are likely to convince. If we try to convince, we are less likely to be truthful. It is for us to set down the truth as we know it and think it; and for our descendants, not for us, to judge. Humility and honesty are two names for the same thing in writing. Try, therefore, humbly and honestly to assess your experience. Don’t try to make your experiences into more or less than they were, and above all, don’t think of your audience and try to appeal to them.

We need to keep in mind in writing, the style in which Joseph Smith presented his own experiences. His manner is matter-of-fact and cool. He doesn’t try to persuade us or work up out feelings. He may make us feel as a result of what he tells us, but he doesn’t make an effort to make us feel. He does not attempt to do other than describe what happened, including how he felt. There is an important difference between expressing one’s feelings and describing one’s feelings. When we attempt to express our feelings, we nearly always find ourselves, instead, expressing the feelings we ought to have had or should like to have had or exaggerating the feelings that we really did have. The attempt is enough to cancel out our chance of success. But if we try simply to describe our feelings we don’t fall into these errors.

Abstract statements about our feelings are boring and don’t really communicate. But a plain account may communicate a great deal. If we write down faithfully what happens to us, our feelings will come through, and they will be felt indirectly and therefore truly. So rather than say how we felt on our marriage day, we should try to describe what happened to us on that marriage day. Our feelings will come through much better than if we just say how we felt. We are more likely to be able to convey to our descendants something of what we really were if we try to set down the truth about what happens to us, and the more concrete and more detailed it is the better, and the less abstract it is the better. It is a mark of genius to single out the little details that make everything come alive; and very often that happens, not because one seeks to do it, but because one is in the right frame of mind and has taken one’s experience in the right way. Notice in the Joseph Smith story details like his leaning up against the mantlepiece when he gets home and the humorous remark he makes to his mother on that occasion.

. . . . A personal history always needs to be revised, because what we think is most important in our lives changes as our lives go on. Certain experiences become less important, more profound. Were we here simply to have certain experiences , life would soon be over for us. But we are here to live so that those experiences–for example the experience of temple marriage–may broaden and deepen and become richer as we grow older. Though we may think we understand the significance of eternal marriage, at the time we are married, we may understand it much more deeply later. In fact, we may spend a lifetime realizing or beginning to realize what the real significance of an eternal marriage is. So just as we should go back constantly to the scriptures and to other great books, we should go back to the most important experiences of our lives. . . . The greatest experiences of our lives need to be remembered and cultivated and thought of day after day. We don’t want to tuck them underground. They are there for us to keep, treasure, observe, know and live with. . . . The most important experiences of our lives shape our lives–they are our lives.


Thoughts on Keeping Journals and Records

“We urge our young people to begin today to write and keep records of all the important things in their own lives.”
(President Spencer W. Kimball, New Era, Oct 1975, p. 4.)

“I promise you that if you will keep your journals and records, they will indeed be a source of great inspiration to your families, to your children, your grandchildren, and others, on through the generations. Each of us is important to those who are near and dear to us and as our posterity read of our life’s experiences, they, too, will come to know and love us. And in that glorious day when our families are together in the eternities, we will already be acquainted.”
(President Spencer W. Kimball, New Era, Dec. 1980, p. 26.)

“The prompting that goes unresponded to may not be repeated. Writing down what we have been prompted with is vital. A special thought can be lost in the day in the rough and tumble of life. God should not, and may not, choose to repeat the prompting if we assign what was given such a low priority as to put it aside.”
(Elder Neal A. Maxwell, Press Forward, p. 122.)

“When you receive personal revelation it is an offense against God to not write it down; for it becomes scripture to you.”
(Elder Richard G. Scott, Oct. 2000, Stake President’s Seminar.)

“Knowledge carefully recorded is knowledge available in time of need. Spiritually sensitive information should be kept in a sacred place that communicates to the Lord how you treasure it. That practice enhances the likelihood of your receiving further light.
(Elder Richard G. Scott, Oct. General Conf. 1993, Sunday Session.)

“People disappear when they die. Their voice, their laughter, the warmth of their breath. Their flesh. Eventually their bones. All living memory of them ceases. This is both dreadful and natural. Yet for some there is an exception to this annihilation. For in the books they write they continue to exist. We can rediscover them. Their humor, their tone of voice, their moods. Through the written word they can anger you or make you happy. They can comfort you. They can perplex you. They can alter you. All this, even though they are dead. Like flies in amber, like corpses frozen in the ice, that which according to the laws of nature should pass away is, by the miracle of ink on paper, preserved. It is a kind of magic.”
(Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale)


Thoughts on Alma 37

1. Is keeping a journal optional?
2. What types of things should be included in our records?
3. What should be done with the records of our fathers/mothers?
4. Consider the importance/value of the recorded testimony of an ancestral family member.
5. In vs. 8 what are 3 reasons we should write and preserve our records?
6. Note the repeating phrase “unto future generations.”
How can we “leave ourselves behind?”
7. How might having an “enlarged memory” bless our lives?
8. How might YOU “be the means” in your family and to your posterity?

Now, while your scriptures are turned to Alma 37, look at ch. 38 and you will see, beginning in vs. 6 how Alma does the very thing he has just taught Helaman in ch. 37. As he now addresses Shiblom, notice in vs. 6-9 his own personal testimony, written and recorded. This is a First Person, Parent to Child, Personal Account, a Story of Something that Happened To Him.

Notice in these 3 verses how often he uses “I”, “me” or “myself” (I see at least 18 times!) – he wants us to know that this experience happened to him and this is the testimony he gained from that experience. This is what journals and personal records are all about. We are really lucky to get to have a peek into his journal, his words to his own son. Not every journal entry will have such remarkable experiences, but there will be occasions in your writing life when the Spirit will prompt you to say and write things that will change the lives of your children or grandchildren or great grandchildren long after you are gone. There will be ideas you will share in just the right way that those descendants will Listen to because they want to hear what you thought about things. They might be a teenager in trouble, or a struggling young father, or a student deciding on what paths in life to take. Your words will reach out to them and those words will be the means that have an influence on the decisions they make.

Please prayerfully read these verses in chapters 37 and 38 this week and think about your role in the records that need to be kept in your family.

Like FH work in general, this is not just a passing hobby or something some people do. This is EPIC. As you ponder and read your scriptures, mark how often the command is given to write or record what is happening. “Keep a Record” is one of those commandments we tend to skim right over, thinking it does not apply to us – we’re not prophets or “leaders” in charge of that sort of thing. But you are the leaders in your families and what you say and write and record will change lives. And the lives they change will be the lives of Your Loved Ones. Don’t fail them.


Journal Prompts Bookmark:

Anything Worth Saying
About Any of These Today?

Good humor, jokes
Your health
Emotional high or low
Work, job, coworkers
Homemaking, housework
Happenings to family members
Best Friends
Romantic interests
Money, finances, purchases
House, home yard
Pets, animals
Neighborhood, neighbors
Any visits? Visitors?
Weather, seasons
Important phone calls
Mail sent or received
Church or religious beliefs
New insight, idea
Sports result
Community service, good deeds
Anyone help you?
Witness historic happening?
Today’s headline news
Decisions made
New plans, goals
TV, radio, movies, music
Hobbies, talents, sports
Travels, tours
Deaths, birthdays, weddings
Family news
Things you are grateful for

About Ann Laemmlen Lewis

Thank you for visiting! I hope you enjoy the things shared here.
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