Thursday, February 21, 2013

How do you write about your family’s baggage?

Your family and mine include dysfunctional people. Parents, grandparents, great-grandparents—some carried out unhealthy practices and held offensive attitudes. 

And now our generation has skeletons in the closet. Every family has baggage.

You know—the enabler.

Or the one who should have protected you but didn’t.

The bully, the controller, the know-it-all.

The petty one always looking for ways to take offence and blame you.

Your grandfather might have been a wife-beater. 

Perhaps your father was quick to criticize and slow to praise. 

Maybe your mother was egotistical and self-absorbed. 

Your family tree might include a drunkard or abuser, a liar, murderer, adulterer, sex addict, drug addict, or thief.

Even Jesus’ genealogical chart shows ill-famed characters: Rahab was a prostitute and King Manasseh deliberately defied God, carried out evil, and led God’s people astray. 

Yes, your family, like every family, has lots of good people and a few flawed people, and those people have influenced you

Some of the dysfunctional ones have played major roles in your life

So how should you, a memoirist, write about your people and their baggage?

First, examine your motive. It is all-important

Hear this: Memoir is not about revenge.

Forbid yourself to use your memoir to shame people.

Refrain from humiliating anyone. 

Refuse to get even. 

Writing a memoir can bring much-needed healing to you, the writer, but focus on the right reason to write about your past

Writing can help break the cycle of hand-me-down hang-ups that crippled your family’s generations, but focus on the right reason to write about your past.

“God’s Word clearly expresses 
what a good and effective teacher the past can be. 
The past will be a good teacher 
if we will simply approach it as a good student, 
from the perspective of what we can gain 
and how God can use it for His glory.”
(Beth Moore, Breaking Free; emphasis mine)

Do everything you must to be at peace with God:

Recognize that like your parents and grandparents, you have made and will make mistakes in raising your children and relating to your grandchildren

Your malfunctions might be different from those of your parents or grandparents but, be assured, you have your own shortcomings and failures

Ask for God’s forgiveness. 

Accept His forgiveness. 

Allow God to wrap you in His grace and mercy. 

Wrapped in God’s grace and mercy—that’s where you find peace with God

That’s where you find God’s healing in your life

Then pass it on: In writing your memoir, extend to your ancestors the same forgiveness, grace, and mercy God extended to you.

Read the following slowly, and then read it again. Take in its message:

“Thank God that 
although you cannot change the past, 
He can help you change what you’re doing with it
And the changes He makes in you 
in the present 
can certainly change the future
Hallelujah! Our God reigns!” 
(Beth Moore, Breaking Free; emphasis mine)


  1. WOW! What an important reminder. Thank you for sharing these guidelines. GOD bless you and yours~ Jess

    1. Hi, Jess, thanks for stopping by. I always enjoy seeing your sweet face and words here. :) May God bless you and yours, as well.


  2. Dear Linda, What a beautiful, spot-on reminder to all of us about the power of memoir to heal through forgiveness, including self-forgiveness. Once again your words come at just the right time and in just the right way to fortify me for my own writing journey. Thank you so much for all you do. I'll be sharing these pearls!
    Blessings and Hugs,

    1. Bless you, Kathy, as you finish your memoir and prepare it for publication! You know so much about healing, forgiveness, and self-forgiveness. I'm eager to read your memoir ad know that I and all your readers will be blessed beyond what we can imagine.


  3. Linda, you just put into amazing words why I'm writing my family history/memoir. I had a lot of "stuff" growing up that I always let get me down and actually let it influence my own bad decisions. I rebelled as a teenager. I jumped into a bad first marriage. At last I came to the realization that it wasn't all bad and I have so much to be thankful for. I had some wonderful Christian mentors in my grandma and aunts, and my parents did the very best they could, with the times they lived in and their circumstances.

    I have siblings who have yet to get past our childhood years, and I started writing the book expressly for them. Now I have lots of cousins who also love the stories and patiently wait for the forthcoming book. I'm almost finished, Hallejuah! (spelling?)

    I just love what you've written here. It totally confirms my own thinking, and you've given me even more inspiration to keep writing. You do a wonderful job on this blog. b.

    1. Hi, Bettyann, so nice to hear from you. I always ask God to help me know what to write in my blog posts so if you found inspiration, then He is to be praised! Bless you as you sift through painful memories as well as good ones and compile messages for your family. My heart sings when I read your words that your grandma and aunts were such excellent mentors for you and trust that you are including special stories about them. Congratulations on the progress you have made on your memoir! Keep us posted!


  4. Linda, I love that closing message about changing what we do with the past and I welcomed the reminders in your tips for examining motives. I'd add one more point -- it's okay to write scathing, critical, hateful thoughts because seeing them out in the light on paper is often the best way to dispel them. The key is not to avoid writing these thoughts and accusations, but to avoid sharing those words with anyone else. They are FOR YOUR EYES ONLY! Write them. Deal with them. Burn or shred them. Therein lies healing.

    1. Hi, Sharon, your suggestion is right-on about writing down all the icky stuff, absorbing all the healing we can through the process, and then burning those words! Yes, they are for our eyes only! That exercise surely is one of the benefits of writing memoir, even those parts that never make it to the final draft. I'll add your comment to the Facebook page. Thanks for stopping by, Sharon.


  5. Linda, you have touched on many important reminders, but I appreciate the reminder about revenge. It would be so easy to go to that level, but would deter the beautiful healing that can come with writing memoir, especially one that holds painful memories and actions. Thanks for the focus today on the best ways to write our stories!

  6. This topic could fill several books so I realize my one blog post only scratches the surface. (You might want to look back at my string of posts about whether to remember or forget things in the past. There are good ways and not-so-good ways of remembering.)

    I hope you noticed Sharon Lippincott's suggestion above. She advises that we write our painful memories, but keep them private, and then burn them. Healing for the writer can result from such an exercise, and in that we don't make the mistake of using our memoirs as a way to get even.

    Hope this helps. Thanks for your comment.


  7. Thanks for the great advice. I just started writing my memoir and I have this resentment towards my grandparents. I have thought of a million ways I could make them feel guilty. But as I read your post it made me think twice. My story is about my journey of healing. Forgiveness is the only way to peace. God bless you!

  8. Well, Hi There, Sad Girl. I hope you are on a journey that will lead to "Happy Girl." Surely God has good plans for you.

    You are wise to think twice about publishing something that will make your grandparents feel guilty, but I hope you noticed Sharon Lippincott's suggestion in her comment above. "It's okay to write scathing, critical, hateful thoughts because seeing them out in the light on paper is often the best way to dispel them. The key is not to avoid writing these thoughts and accusations, but to avoid sharing those words with anyone else. They are FOR YOUR EYES ONLY! Write them. Deal with them. Burn or shred them. Therein lies healing."

    Sad Girl, there is so much more about this topic than what I've written in this blog post! I plan to follow up in a future blog post, and know, too, there are numerous sound Christian books and Bible studies that would help guide you as you write. God can and will bring healing, be assured.

    Thanks so much for stopping by.