Wednesday, June 29, 2011

“Roots of a big old vine growing close to the porch”

...All the folks who came ahead of us

are like the brown roots of a big old vine

growing close to the porch,

and even though those roots are way down

deep in the ground where we can’t see them,

they’re still there.


And we grow from them, our whole lives,

and then, if we’re lucky, others grow from us.

from Resting in the Bosom of the Lamb,
by Augusta Trobaugh

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Saturday Snippet: Your ancestors’ influence and DNA

“My grandmother, Catherine (Cassie) Helmer, died when my Dad was age 13,” wrote my mother. “People who knew her thought I was much like her. In my hearing, old Aunt Maggie once said in her thick Scottish brogue, ‘Cassie will always be with us as long as that gairl (girl) walks the airth (earth).’”

Over the decades, Aunt Maggie’s declaration has played through my thoughts dozens of times. I wish I knew more! What about my mother, specifically, reminded Aunt Maggie of Cassie? (She’s on the right in this photo.)

Did my mom act like her grandmother Cassie? Look like her? Talk like her?

And even more intriguing to me: What did I inherit from my great-grandmother Cassie?

Each of us has a whole lot of DNA from our ancestors.

My brother’s fingers are just like our father’s, but his fingernails are a little different. My brother’s hand gestures also remind me of our dad—like the way he rubs his nose.

When I watch my son speak—the way his nose and lips and jaw move—I’m seeing my dad speak.

Often when I talk on the phone with my brother, I marvel at how he sounds like my son—his voice, manner of speaking, and the points he makes.

You have a whole lot of DNA from your ancestors. Which physical qualities or mannerisms did you inherit from your ancestors?

What about skills and aptitudes? Perhaps you inherited your grandmother’s artistic talents, or your great-grandfather’s interest in medicine.

Your ancestors also handed down their influence.

How did previous generations establish a “culture” evident in family gatherings? Did your grandparents or great-grandparents dine in style with the whole family, using fine linens and crystal goblets and polished silver? Were good manners of the utmost importance?

Or is your family more like Tony’s? My kids brought Tony home with them from college for a few days and after he had hung around the house for a day and a half, he asked my husband, Dave, “Do you always eat together as a family?”

When Dave answered yes, Tony said, “I’ve never sat down with my family to eat.”

Dave must have looked puzzled because Tony went on, “Everybody’s on their own. When people at my house get hungry, they grab something from the fridge or the pantry.”

Was your childhood home, or your grandparents’ home, a cheerful place, or full of tension? A place you felt secure, or on guard?

What attitudes and values did your family pass down to you?

Did God have any part in your great-grandparents’ or grandparents’ or parents’ lives? How did their perspectives on God shape your concept of Him and your relationship with Him?

God used your ancestors’ influence as well as their DNA to mold you into the person you are today.

If you haven’t already given much thought to that, I urge you to do so in coming weeks and months.

Memoir-writing involves retrospection and unraveling. It includes examining both minute details and the bigger picture.

What has God done in and through your ancestors and in your own life to bring you to today?

Write your stories!

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

“Method writing” helps your memoir come alive

"No story has a divine right to be read."
Peter Jacobi

Peter Jacobi reminds us that if we want our children and grandchildren to read our stories, we must craft compelling material. Our stories need more than facts and photos. They need our emotions.

Think about your all-time favorite books and movies. How did they hook you? Answer: Most likely you made an emotional connection with the main characters.

Peter Guber says it this way: “The best stories evoke an emotional response, touch a deep cord.…” (Peter Guber, peter-guber/african-water-rights-in-d_b_633678.html)

Our readers need to enter into our emotion with us. If we can stir up their emotional responses, they’ll more likely read all the way to the end of our stories.

But if you’ve attempted writing your emotion in a given situation, you know that can be a tough challenge so, in Writing Life Stories, Bill Roorbach suggests writers employ method writing, a spin-off of method acting.

Here’s how method acting works: Before the curtain rises, the actor remembers a time in which he experienced the emotion he needs to act out. He spends time reliving that emotion so that when he steps on stage, he is gripped in that emotion and succeeds in playing his part.

Method writing, then, requires you to step out of the present and into the past. Whether you’re writing about a blissful time or a tragic event, take time (make time) to remember the event and rediscover the emotion you felt.

In the midst of reliving that emotion, also reflect on your accompanying thoughts and imaginings. While wrapped up in that past event, ask yourself:

What was at stake? What, in this incident, did I have to lose or gain?

At the time, how did I envision that this situation could change my life?

What were my joys, hopes, fears, and prayers?

When you’re caught up again in that event and emotion, get it onto paper because tension generates reader interest and involvement.

Make your story come alive.

Give it a pulse. A heartbeat.

Make it sing and dance, or sob and wail.

Just be sure it’s alive.

Related posts: No story has a divine right to be read

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Saturday Snippet: “We need a father movement”

“We need a father movement,” writes Lloyd Ogilvie, “and Father’s Day is a good day to begin. What I have in mind is more than simply honoring fathers with parties and gifts.”

In Silent Strength for My Life, Ogilvie continues, “It’s time for fathers to break the silence about what the Lord has done in their lives.”

When a father keeps spiritual matters private, what message does he send his children about the importance of faith?

Ogilvie starts his message with these words, “Teach them to your children and your grandchildren” (Deuteronomy 4:9). Sound familiar? Look near the top of this blog and what do you see? Deuteronomy 4:9, worded a little differently.

Ogilvie says kids are “very curious about what makes their parents tick. If fathers can orate on ‘Now when I was a boy …’ why not ‘Let me share what’s really important to me.…’”

So, to our men followers of S M 101: Katinga, Wayne, Matt, José, Baboo, and other men reading this blog: What about Lloyd Ogilvie’s challenge?

If you’re reading this, you’re probably already writing your stories, but I know you know men who are not writing their stories. How can you inspire them to tell their kids and grandkids what God has done in their lives?

You could recommend this blog to them, for one thing.

You could also recommend blogs I listed in the right sidebar. (I’ve run across other blogs I’ll add soon.)

What additional resources can you recommend to us? We welcome them!

Leave a comment below or on Facebook (, or e-mail me at and put “Spiritual Memoir” in the subject line so it won’t look like spam.

P. S. Did any of you take the Six-Word Memoir challenge from Wednesday’s post? (For details see If so, be sure to share your six-word memoir with us!

Happy writing!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

3 opportunities, 4 cautions, and a FUN 6-word challenge

Sunday we’ll observe Father’s Day, and this offers you three memoir opportunities:

(1) Ponder your father’s impact on your life,
(2) examine God’s involvement in both your father’s life and yours, and
(3) write one or more vignettes.

While every father messes up sometimes, most possess redeeming qualities. They show love and commitment in various ways: They guide, teach, and encourage. They endure sub-freezing temps to cheer at high school football games and they dress up for father-daughter banquets.

Was or is your father a man of wisdom, godliness, and generosity? Hard-working, honest, and thoughtful?

If so, you’ll find it easy to write stories about him. Let his personality and character shine, but also create an accurate picture: Include his quirks and imperfections and how he worked on them.

Everyone knows: No one is perfect. While some fathers make responsible decisions and never consider failure an option, other fathers attract trouble. They habitually stumble into crisis and failure.

Perhaps your father abandoned you. How did his nonappearance affect who you are today?

Four cautions in writing your memoir:

(1) Resist humiliating people,
(2) avoid using your stories to get even,
(3) refrain from using your stories to get readers to pity or take sides with you, and
(4) remember the Golden Rule, recognizing you need others to do the same for you.

With those four cautions in mind, how did you deal with your dad’s flaws? What lessons have you learned about extending forgiveness and grace? Looking back, in what specific ways have you experienced that God is a father to the fatherless (Psalm 68:5) and defends the cause of the fatherless (Deuteronomy 10:18)? If you have children, how did your father’s absence shape the way you relate to your kids?

If your dad abandoned you or if you’re a single mom—or if you know someone in such situations—this essay by Michele Weldon is a must-read. Click on “A Father is Born from Many Strangers” at

In writing one or more vignettes about your father, look for what God was doing even if you didn’t see it at the time. Search for evidence that God worked on your behalf, through the good and the bad, to bring you to today.

In light of your current knowledge and experience, what deeper lessons did God have for you in the events you write about?

Include your thoughts—even your struggles—to understand what was going on and how, over time, God made it clearer to you.

Do you now have a better understanding of God’s purpose for your life?

Connect your stories with God’s stories, and be sure to tell your children!

Here’s the fun six-word challenge I promised: Click over to Six Word Memoirs,, and add your own six words on being a dad or on your relationship with your father.

Take a minute to look over other submissions. A couple of my favorites: “Loved me even without his memory,” and “Unloved son becomes an adoring father.”

Leave your six-word memoir below in the comments, or on Facebook (, or e-mail me at and put “Six-Word Memoir” in the subject line so it won’t look like spam.

Have fun!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Saturday Snippet: Inspiration for your WIP

What’s your WIP? It’s your Work in Progress, your rough draft. You probably have several vignettes in draft form.

Think of them as WIPs (rather than “finished”) because in coming weeks, we’ll cover additional elements you’ll want to utilize so your stories will come alive for your readers.

For example, photos play a big role in your memoir in two ways:

First, they help you remember details.

Don’t believe me? Give it a try.

Be sure to have a pencil and paper in hand, and then dig out a photo related to one of your vignettes. Give yourself a few minutes to ponder what you see and jot down everything that comes to mind. (You might need a big piece of paper!)

If it’s a photo of scenery, record the reason you were there, who was with you, what you did, and how that place or event changed you. Include sensory detail: smell, sound, taste, touch, sight.

If a person is in the photo, note his or her physical characteristics, quirks, tone of voice, talents, endearing qualities, and maybe even odors. Write some or all of those into your WIP.

The second importance of photos? Their benefit to readers. Photos add richness, texture, and depth to your stories—which, in turn, add to your readers’ enjoyment. Photos help readers experience your story with you, so consider including photos in your finished memoir.

While you’re working on your vignettes (consider them as chapters), start crafting a title for each.

And how about this fun project: Have you thought of a title for your memoir—for your whole compilation of stories? Feel free to dream up a good one!

Today you’re in for a treat because one of this blog’s Followers, Diana Trautwein, wrote a vignette about falling in love during her freshman year at UCLA. Click on the following link to read Diana’s delightful story, The Eyes Have It:

Notice (a) Diana's use of sensory detail, (b) her photo, and (c) the way she reflected on the past and drew out important lessons--an important aspect of memoir. Nice job, Diana!

C’mon back Wednesday, and between now and then enjoy writing your stories!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Your family and D-Day


Monday was the 67th anniversary of D-Day. Melissa Marsh* describes it as “a bloody, horrific, and terrifying day.”

This week the TV news, newspapers, and Internet made, for the most part, only brief, general references to D-Day.

For example, according to Canada Remembers* on Facebook, the Canadian forces’ “courage and skill helped lead the Allied advance and soon, the Canadians had captured three shoreline positions.”

But Melissa reminds us not to settle for brief and general. She urges us to consider real people who experienced D-Day:

“… Sometimes, we need to take a step back and look at the individuals who made this invasion possible—the infantryman, the paratrooper, the tank drivers, the landing boat drivers, and on and on.

“It wasn't just about military strategies and generals and was also about the common soldier.

“It's easy to group these individuals into one entity: the military. But looking at those men's faces reminds us that each one represents a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a sweetheart. Each one had a family, a friend, a wife, a sister, a brother, a daughter, a son, a lover.”

Your relatives probably played a role in D-Day events. Perhaps some served as soldiers while loved ones remained home.

Has your family recorded those stories?

My mother chronicled vivid memories of World War II. She and many women carried out both women’s and men’s work by day and huddled around radios by night, eager for news from the warfront.

On D-Day, June 6, 1944, my grandparents, mother, and aunts lived in Ontario, Canada.

On that day, almost every young man my mother knew lost his life.

Almost every boy she dated, almost every boy who pulled a prank on her, went to church picnics with her, flirted with her—gone.

The boys and young men whose pictures fill Mom’s photo albums—almost every one died.

My aunt’s boyfriend might be in this photo. Allwyn was among Canadian troops heading toward shore on D-Day.

In the face of enemy fire, rather than engage in horrors awaiting him on the beach, Allwyn jumped overboard. The boat’s motor blades took his life.

We can only speculate why he jumped. Perhaps he was terrified of being killed.

On the other hand, maybe he recognized he did not want to kill.

What are your family’s stories of D-Day?

If you include D-Day accounts in your memoir, remember: As a memoirist, look for deeper lessons. Pondering, examining, unraveling, musing, wondering, and retrospection are necessary ingredients in memoirs. Looking back, what is your understanding of D-Day’s impact on your family? On you?

If you lost a relative or friend, how did God comfort and provide for those left behind?

If your loved ones returned home, in what ways did God give them protection, courage, and stamina?

How did the experience change their lives? Was their faith strengthened?

Whether or not you lost someone, in what specific ways did God act on behalf of your family?

What lessons can you pass on to your kids and grandkids?

Write your story!

Here are excellent resources for you:

Melissa Marsh has her MA in History with a special interest in World War II. Her blog, The Best of World War II, has photos and a wealth of information.

The World War II Data Base includes photos and information about numerous countries.

For inspirational reading: “The Hardest Decision I Ever Had to Make,” by Erwin A. Thompson, WWII Hero. Who to choose for a dangerous night patrol? And, how to get back alive?

*Since links still aren't working, copy and paste this link to Marsha's blog post about D-Day:

and here's a link to Canada Remembers on Facebook:!/CanadaRemembers

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Saturday Snippet: What sights will readers see in your memoir?


You want people to read your memoir. After all the effort you put into writing it, you want them to read it all the way to the end.

Here’s one way to encourage that: Include details so readers experience the story with you.

Wednesday I suggested adding details to your rough drafts, concentrating on sights—describing your vignette’s setting, its surrounding, its scenery. Write so readers can see the place as if they’re standing beside you.

Recently I ran across a good example at Ann Kroeker’s blog, Ann Kroeker. Writer. She captured the following childhood memories of spending a week with her grandmother each summer: 

… I loved waking up in the front bedroom under fresh sheets spread neatly on the big double bed, a loosely woven purple cotton blanket folded back. In the narrow, horizontal window, she displayed a collection of colored glass bottles. Light streamed in through the colors, morning magic. I blinked myself awake, rested and safe.

In my memory I can still walk through every room, from the baker’s cabinet in the corner of the kitchen to the day bed along the dining room wall; from the collection of gardening books on shelves in the living room, to the glass jar of leftover yarn balls sitting next to a chair in Grandma’s bedroom. It’s all still here, inside me.

I can still wander out the screen door and hear the spring stretch the wooden frame shut with a solid “thunk.” Under the grape arbor, I pluck a Concord grape, manipulating the skin off with my teeth to suck the sweet, cool insides and chew the sour skins before spitting them out. In my mind, Baby’s Breath still blooms white behind the garage and orange day lilies line the side of the house. For a while, my grandma made rag rugs on a loom that she set up on a small porch. I can see its threads and recall how the shuttle slipped across to bind the strips of cloth.”
Used by permission from Ann Kroeker,
Lynn Hopper photo

Did you feel like you were there beside Ann, moseying through her grandmother’s home? I did!

Ann included other sensory details, too: sound, taste, and feel. Nice work, Ann! Thanks for showing us around your grandmother’s place.

This week, I encourage you to start at least one new vignette. Review each story and add sensory details. Invite readers to experience your story alongside you.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Your story is important, but will anyone read it?

Welcome to new followers on the blog and Facebook:
Betty, Judi, Baboo, and Amanda.

You know your stories are important. (If you’re not convinced, look at that Bible verse way up at the top, and go back and read Are your stories important? at

You have God-and-you stories that only you can tell, and your children and grandchildren need to hear them.

Yes, it’s true: Your stories are important. But will anyone read them?

Nowadays potential readers have many distractions: texting, Facebook, smartphones, movies, sports, TV, magazines, iPods, Blackberries, MP3 players, the Internet, hobbies, and thousands of books besides yours.

All these, and more, compete against your memoir.

Two decades ago, Peter Jacobi wrote one brief sentence I’ve always remembered:

“No story has a divine right to be read.”

As important as your stories are, you cannot force anyone to read them.

Jacobi wrote:

“Unfortunately, as a writer … I cannot try what author Anthony Burgess did when he was ‘teaching Shakespeare at City College … at 8:00 a.m.’ He explains, ‘I decided to teach them something about how Shakespeare was educated. I began to write three lines of Seneca in Latin on the blackboard to show where Shakespeare learned about rhythm, and they started to walk out. Well, I wasn’t going to let them get away. I rushed to the door and locked it, saying, “You’re going to learn these … lines of Latin whether you like it or not.” ’”

You can’t lock your “audience” in and force them to read your stories.

Because people are busy, they’ll spend time on only what promises to be worth their invested effort.

That means your stories must be more intriguing than all those distractions and choices before them.

How many times have you sat down with a book or magazine or newspaper, anticipating—maybe even craving—a good read, only to be disappointed with boring or confusing content? That happens too often, so your memoir must draw readers in and keep them turning pages.

“Some writers assume
readers are eager to grasp every word they write.
The opposite is true.…
Because we find it interesting,
or we think our life is newsworthy,
it's easy to assume everyone cares.
It's better to assume no one cares
about what we write.…”
Cec Murphey

So what’s a memoir writer to do? Answer: Write stories worth reading.

Earn the right to be read: Memoir writers must capture the reader’s interest so he’ll keep reading all the way to the end.

How do you write stories worth reading? You can find answers to that question in a bazillion books and articles and blog posts and writers’ conferences.

And from week to week I’ll post the best of those tips here on Spiritual Memoirs 101. Let’s get started.

Getting started: Details, blessed details

Stories worth reading include details that will make readers feel they’re experiencing the story with you. We’ll cover that often here in this blog.

If you’ve been following along with us each week, you’ve already started including details in your rough drafts: Think back to our last two Saturday Snippets:

Invite readers into your story:

Endless ideas:

You’ll remember from those two posts that your readers can enter into your story—can live it with you—when you re-create scenes through the five senses – sight, sound, taste, touch, smell.

This week’s assignment: Work on your rough drafts, concentrating on sights. Describe your vignette’s setting—the surrounding scenery. Does your story occur in an old farmhouse? On a trail high in the Rockies? In a hospital room? Revise your drafts so readers can see the place as if they’re standing right beside you.

Resources :
1. a thesaurus
2. a dictionary
3. do a Google search
4. read good literature to study how pros develop a story’s sights and scenery

Related posts:

What is a memoir:

Invite readers into your story:

Endless ideas: