On publication and journaling

As a published writer, one would think I am a master journalizer. (I looked up “journalizer” in the dictionary and it’s actually a word!)

One would be wrong. I have started so many different types of journals and diaries over the length of my writing-capable life and have yet to finish more than one or two. I started a diary when I was very young, but would go years without actually writing in it.

Not only that, but I censored what I wrote just in case someone found it and read it. I started an “Our Marriage Memory Book” when my husband and I became engaged. I don’t know if I even made any entries after the wedding. Of course I have a baby book for each of my children.  The pages are virtually empty, but sandwiched in between are scrap pieces of paper with notes from my mom with dates of first teeth and rolling over, etc. The most consistent type of journal I have is a prayer journal. I’ve actually filled up two whole journals! But guess when the last time I wrote in my latest journal. Go ahead. Guess. Give up? Yeah. I don’t know either.

My most prized “journal” is my mother’s family genealogy. My grandfather and his cousin were able to trace their family line back to the Highlands of Scotland, follow them to Ireland and then to America shortly before the Revolution. Most of the book is just names and dates, but sprinkled in here and there are bits from diaries or letters and those are my favorite parts.

Writing down thoughts and emotions is a great catharsis. Recording big events soon after ensures the greatest accuracy. There is a huge benefit to the actual documentation of such things. But beyond the reasons for the doing are the feelings we are rewarded with down the line.

Three benefits to be gained from journaling

1. Sweet, nostalgic memories

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. - Luke 2:19

Y’all know the Christmas story, right? Mary birthed little baby Jesus, laid him in a manger, the angels appeared to the local shepherds, they came to see the newborn and then they told everyone about their experience.

Poor Mary didn’t have the benefit of a baby book with prompted pages full of firsts: her first thought at the announcement of her pregnancy (though we can all imagine); her first glimpse of that beautiful baby; her husband’s first words at the sight of his son; the first gifts in celebration, etc. But she treasured up everything and pondered them in her heart. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say, just like every other mother before and since, she would think back to these cherished moments throughout the years.

My own children are twenty-two and nineteen. I very often wish I had kept up with their baby books. Memory is a funny thing and it wanes over the years. Things you thought you would always remember become hazy at best. Still, what has been recorded is always a welcomed chronicle for me. I get all warm and squishy feeling inside and the overwhelming joy I felt at that time is remembered with an almost reverent fondness. 

2. Reminds me of what I’ve been through

Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. - Deuteronomy 4:9

This bit of scripture comes on the heels of the Hebrews flight from Egypt and subsequent wandering. What started with a little baby floating down a river in a basket ended with probably the greatest escape in history. God did a lot of incredible things for these people and sometimes they forgot. They hadn’t made it to the promised land yet and, in the way of most humans, they got a little whiney with the trials and the waiting. It was important for them to remember everything they had endured and how faithful God had been through all of it.

Several years ago my family went through what I like to call The Great Cancer Debacle of ’05. At the age of 39 I was diagnosed with breast cancer mere days after my husband had resigned his position and accepted a job 1200 miles away. It was a difficult year, to say the least, and sometimes I got a bit grumpy about things. It’s fair to say that there were occasions of much wailing and gnashing of teeth. We did what we had to do, which meant the kids and I living in one state while I underwent treatment and our hero working half-way across the country and coming home every weekend he could. It wasn’t optimum, but we made the decision based on our previous experiences with God and His faithfulness.

I did keep a fairly comprehensive medical/personal journal throughout this experience, along with my prayer journal. We were reunited as a “full time family” a year and a day after my first chemotherapy treatment and in the eight years since it has become a surreal memory, almost like it happened to someone else. But when I read my entries from that time it comes back with a startling clarity and I can see the hand of God in every sentence. Now in those moments when I become anxious or angry or sad or fearful, I can look back and remember what God did for me and those negative emotions are replaced with peace and gratitude for His faithfulness.

3. Posterity for future generations

This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham. - Matthew 1:1

A complaint many folks have about the Old Testament in particular is all the begets peppered throughout. I used to think the same thing until I actually read some of them. Oh.My.Gosh, People! There are fascinating gems in them thar family lines. Where do I even start?

Genesis 5 lists the lineage from Adam to Noah and goes something like, “When Bob had lived x-number of years, he had a son named Bob, Jr.. After Bob, Jr. was born, Bob lived x-number of years, and then he died.” And so on and so forth it goes. Except for Enoch, who “walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.” What??

And turns out Enoch was the father of Methuselah of “he’s older than Methuselah” fame. Methuselah was the grandfather of Noah and when you do the math you realize he probably died in the flood. IN THE FLOOD, PEOPLE!

Can you really tell me that’s not interesting?

Of course, in Matthew we see Jesus’ ancestry and it’s of great interest to note there are five women listed in his genealogy. That may not sound like such a big deal, but it absolutely is.

Three reasons Matthew’s Genelogy was important

1. It was very rare and against Jewish custom to list women in a genealogy.

2. Not all these women were Hebrews.

3. Not all of these women had sterling reputations. A deceiver, a prostitute, a foreigner, an adulteress and, of course, a teenager named Mary.

My own heritage isn’t quite as colorful, though I am enthralled with learning where I come from. Before we moved to Pennsylvania I had no idea my ties to the state were so strong. Both of my parents have their roots in this beautiful state. Not only that, but while doing some research for my husband’s side of the family I found out his ancestors hail from good old P.A. as well.

I have discovered that I have an ancestor who came from England to America with William Penn, a Revolutionary War soldier, a victim of a civil war massacre at Centralia, Missouri (which interestingly involved a young man who would become known as the notorious Jesse James), my husband has a famous relative who was captured and held captive by Indians for seven years, along with other assorted interesting characters in the woodpile.

Reading about my family history is exciting to me and makes me feel a part of the big picture.

Are you a steadfast journalizer? If so, what types of journals or diaries do you keep? How do you feel when you read back through them? What encouragement can you give those of us who aren’t so faithful about recording our lives?

Leave a comment: Do you journal? If no, why not? If yes, why do you take the time? Is it more of a personal journal or a prayer journal to God?

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