This was taken from a church talk I gave at a local assisted living facility about three years ago (2014). I did not record my sources, but I know it is not all ‘mine’. It sounds like information from the FamilySearch Wiki, a correspondence course from Brigham Young University, from church leaders, etc.
A word that is oft repeated in scripture is the word “remember”. Lehi sent his sons back to Jerusalem to get the Brass Plates so they could remember their language and the teachings of the prophets. Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the Seventy noted in a Conference talk that President Gordon B. Hinckley’s sermons frequently included inspiring stories and anecdotes from our past. He said, “Because of his teachings, we understand that remembering enables us to see God’s hand in our past. . . By keeping our past alive, he [President Hinckley] connects us to the people, places, and events that make up our spiritual heritage. . .”
A Story to Tell
We can learn from our own personal experiences and also from the experiences of others. Hopefully remembering will help us build on what our ancestors have learned and keep us from repeating the same mistakes over and over again. The simple act of sharing or recording our experiences can help others who may face similar situations in their lives. We can keep the past alive in our families just by talking about our experiences and those of our ancestors.
Prepare a Personal History
Every person who has lived on this earth has a story to tell. Personal and family histories can help us connect with generations who lived long before or long after our own lives. In other words, as we learn about those who have lived before our time we come to know them and our hearts are turned to them. Our personal stories may in fact turn the hearts of our descendants to us. Our experiences related may be able to help them in times of trial. Writing a personal history may seem like an impossible task. I have known people who have spent many hours preparing an outline listing everything they wanted to include in their personal history, but sadly died before actually writing anything.
Ask for Help
Now if you hesitate to pick up a pencil or pen and start writing, may I suggest that you ask Heavenly Father for some help? As you pray to Him, I promise He will answer. To allow the Holy Ghost to whisper to us and for us to hear, we must live worthy lives and keep the commandments the best we can. The Holy Ghost speaks very quietly, and if our environment is noisy we will have a hard time hearing Him. We also must give Him our full attention—no multitasking!
It is pointless to ask Heavenly Father for guidance if we are not already moving. We can’t simply pray for help and then sit with hands folded waiting for a revelation. Think about it. We can’t steer a car unless the engine is running and the wheels are turning. Likewise, we must start doing something before impressions will come. President Boyd K. Packer once said, “. . . if you keep your family [or personal history] in your mind, you will think of little things that you can do, and this will open up the revelation channel, so Heavenly Father can let you know what it is that you should be doing.” I might add that we have to be actively listening. When we think about it, pray about it and listen, Heavenly Father can help us remember what we need to write about.
I find that my best listening time, and the time that I can hear the Holy Ghost speak to me is when I first wake up in the morning. Usually at that time I am well rested, I am relaxed, and nothing hurts. The house is usually quiet, and my mind starts working. As it does, ideas pop into my head, and I need to have something handy to record my impressions on, so I keep a notebook and pencil next to my bed. I find the more intently I listen and the more I record, the more inspiration comes.
Now I would like to suggest some things that may help you record your personal history. You don’t have to organize your history into any particular format or use important-sounding words. Don’t pretend to be something you are not. Write like you talk. It doesn’t really matter how or what you write. What matters is that you write something. Anything is better than nothing. Just tell stories. Here are four things we can all do right now:
- Start writing a retroactive journal by writing about the past rather than the present.
- Write letters or send e-mails to children and grandchildren and save a copy for yourself.
- Tell stories at family gatherings or when family members come to visit.
- Ask your tech-savy great-grandchildren to bring their smart phones and record these stories as you tell them.
In a class on writing that I once took, the teacher compared the writing process to that of a potter shaping a clay pot. The potter sits at a low, round table called a “wheel”. As he presses the control with his foot the wheel begins to turn. Then he takes clay, squeezes it together and throws it hard onto the wheel. It must be thrown hard so it will stick to the wheel and not fall off. Hopefully it lands in the center of the wheel so the centrifugal force is the same on all sides and the pot will be symmetrical. With his hands the potter molds and shapes the clay into the desired form.
The process of writing is much the same. We first need to “throw” (or write) something on paper (or typewriter, or computer, or recording) so we can work with it. When composing a personal history the “clay” we throw on the wheel may be just random thoughts of what might be included in our history. These random thoughts are the ones we wrote down in the notebooks we carry in our pockets or keep by our beds. These are the thoughts that pop into our minds when we least expect them. These are promptings from the Holy Ghost, and if we listen intently we can know what we should write about or talk about with our families.
With these ideas on paper we can now begin to write. I say “begin,” because writing is a continuous process, one that may never be finished. One author described writing this way: “As you start to write you will find that you remember more. One event described seems to remind you of another. Memories long forgotten will come to mind. The mind is a wonderful place, and if given the command that you want to start remembering about this or that, with a pen or computer in hand, it will respond. It thinks you are really serious.” I experienced this just a week or so ago when I suddenly remembered something stupid I had done as a teenager. I have no idea why I remembered this event. It just came without any effort on my part. But I have it in my notebook now, and maybe sometime I will need it.
This author continues. . . “You will never be completely satisfied with what you have written or how you wrote it. You will want to rewrite it many times. Just keep in mind that never being completely satisfied is normal. Just look at the first draft as your skeleton and the revisions as adding flesh to the story. Your story will be more interesting if you include as much detail as possible [including your thoughts and feelings].
“Revisions sometimes bring to mind details that you didn’t think of the first time. The conscious mind may tell you that you are finished, but the subconscious mind continues to go through its memory banks if it thinks there is more to be revealed. Then whenever it wants to, it will send it to your conscious mind, often when you least expect it. You’ll want to have your notebook and pencil handy to catch these items, since they usually don’t return.”
During the writing process you may find it helpful to write in a large notebook or journal. A journal is a place to record your thoughts and impressions. Entries can be made either at the time events happen, or they can be written much later. Reserve a few pages in the front of your journal for an index. Draw vertical lines down the center of each of these index pages dividing each into two columns. Next number the remaining journal pages in one of the upper corners.
When you are ready to write, open your journal to page one, record the date, and start writing. Write a topic, title or name of what you are writing about in the top margin and also on line number one of your index. Write as much or as little as you like on a topic–a paragraph or several pages. Next time you write you will add the date, topic or title; turn back to the index and write the journal page number and title. If you write about the same topic several times, just add the additional page numbers to the first entry for that topic.
In summary. . . Here are the steps to writing or recording a personal history:
- Think about it.
- Pray about it.
- Listen for impressions and write them down.
- Write about common, everyday things, as much or as little as you like.
- Revise, revise, revise.
- Include as much detail as possible.
- Also include thoughts, and feelings.
- Write like you talk. Don’t pretend to be something you are not.
- Write something. Anything is better than nothing
You have a story to tell. If you want to become immortal or be remembered, write a personal history that will live on. This is important. I testify that Heavenly Father will guide you if you ask and then start moving.