I wanted to do a follow-up post after sharing my one little word for 2014 and share a few of the things that stuck out to me in finding this word. If for no other benefit than for my own record.
In September I started attending a weekly religion class. We are studying The Book of Mormon. And in the early chapters it talks about the struggle & sacrifice Lehi and his family made to ensure a record of their ancestors came with them on their journey. This record contained their history, their religion, their family tree, their language, and many other things. As they were travelling to a new land they needed to have this with them. They needed it to teach their posterity. They needed it to preserve their language. They needed it so they could remember the truth. Things can be easily forgotten or changed in the telling and teaching of them if there is not a written record.
Over the first few weeks I felt especially touched as the instructor went back to this idea of a "record" again and again and stressed it's application to us. It is so important that we too write and tell our stories, testimony, and faith and share them with our family. Going back to the Book of Mormon . . . we have this scripture and history because Nephi and other prophets wrote it down.
Our stories may not be scripture, but they have an impact on our own families. It is always thrilling to find connection as I read stories of my own ancestors and I am strengthened by their stories of trial & faith.
We read 1 Nephi 6:3 in which Nephi describes that he is unable to record everything that happens to them (there isn't enough room on the plates), . . . "for I desire the room that I may write the things of God." This was a reminder to me that I should also reserve and set aside space in my journal to write the things of God -- my testimony, faith, experiences, miracles -- that I might not forget what the Lord has done for me.
The instructor referenced a great talk by Henry B. Eyring (O Remember, Remember, Oct 2007 General Conference).
When our children were very small, I started to write down a few things about what happened every day. Let me tell you how that got started. I came home late from a Church assignment. It was after dark. My father-in-law, who lived near us, surprised me as I walked toward the front door of my house. He was carrying a load of pipes over his shoulder, walking very fast and dressed in his work clothes. I knew that he had been building a system to pump water from a stream below us up to our property.
He smiled, spoke softly, and then rushed past me into the darkness to go on with his work. I took a few steps toward the house, thinking of what he was doing for us, and just as I got to the door, I heard in my mind—not in my own voice—these words: “I’m not giving you these experiences for yourself. Write them down.”
I went inside. I didn’t go to bed. Although I was tired, I took out some paper and began to write. And as I did, I understood the message I had heard in my mind. I was supposed to record for my children to read, someday in the future, how I had seen the hand of God blessing our family. Grandpa didn’t have to do what he was doing for us. He could have had someone else do it or not have done it at all. But he was serving us, his family, in the way covenant disciples of Jesus Christ always do. I knew that was true. And so I wrote it down, so that my children could have the memory someday when they would need it.
I wrote down a few lines every day for years. I never missed a day no matter how tired I was or how early I would have to start the next day. Before I would write, I would ponder this question: “Have I seen the hand of God reaching out to touch us or our children or our family today?” As I kept at it, something began to happen. As I would cast my mind over the day, I would see evidence of what God had done for one of us that I had not recognized in the busy moments of the day. As that happened, and it happened often, I realized that trying to remember had allowed God to show me what He had done.
The years have gone by. My boys are grown men. And now and then one of them will surprise me by saying, “Dad, I was reading in my copy of the journal about when …” and then he will tell me about how reading of what happened long ago helped him notice something God had done in his day.
What an amazing record and keepsake. Not only does writing down these special experiences help us, but we may never know when our spouse, child, grandparent will need the reminder of God's loving hand & blessings in our lives.
One day, also in this religion class, our instructor referenced a book that she has read titled, "The Secrets of Happy Families". It gives a lot of interesting, unique ideas about what makes up a happy family -- what kinds of things do they do, say, particpate in etc. -- all based on research studies. The one study she focused on mentioned this:
They found that students who knew a lot about their families (their family history, stories) tended to do better in tough situations. They had a stronger sense of control in their own lives, higher self-esteem, and they were more resilient.
Wow, so cool.
Then, just two weeks later I was sitting in a combined Relief Society / Priesthood meeting at church when our leaders began to present a lesson on Family History. They opened the lesson with an article that shared this exact same research study! Coincidence? Maybe. But this is when I knew that "story" needed to be a part of my life.
The article was titled, "The Stories that Bind Us" by the same author of The Secrets of Happy Families and it was published on the New York Times website. It's a great read. The researchers had developed a hypothesis that children who knew a lot about their families did better when facing challenges.
They developed a measure called the “Do You Know?” scale that asked children to answer 20 questions.
Examples included: Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school? Do you know where your parents met? Do you know an illness or something really terrible that happened in your family? Do you know the story of your birth?
Dr. Duke and Dr. Fivush asked those questions of four dozen families in the summer of 2001, and taped several of their dinner table conversations. They then compared the children’s results to a battery of psychological tests the children had taken, and reached an overwhelming conclusion. The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned. The “Do You Know?” scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.
Seriously? Wow. The author of this book (not Mormon, from what I can gather) spent years meeting with scholars, experts, and families trying to determine what makes up a happy family. The common theme he found was: "The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative."
So interesting. A family narrative is written from the stories we live and share. But he made sure to point out that we shouldn't tell only the happy stories. Or only the sad stories. Either one will actually mess a kid up. But rather to tell the whole story:
It’s called the oscillating family narrative: ‘Dear, let me tell you, we’ve had ups and downs in our family. We built a family business. Your grandfather was a pillar of the community. Your mother was on the board of the hospital. But we also had setbacks. You had an uncle who was once arrested. We had a house burn down. Your father lost a job. But no matter what happened, we always stuck together as a family.’
I love it. So that is what has inspired me to choose Story for my one little word. I want to tell and record our stories and I want them to strengthen, connect, and lift us.