Friday, July 14, 2017

Writing your memoir: Looking for God’s breadcrumb trail

You’ve experienced this: The unexpected happened, something negative or challenging or disappointing. Or maybe it was downright tragic—heartbreaking, life-changing.

One time—only one time, I’m sad to say—when something devastating happened, almost immediately Romans 8:28 came to mind: “And we know that all that happens to us is working for our good if we love God and are fitting into His plans” (Living Bible).

I told myself that ultimately I’d recognize the good He’d bring from the tragedy. I told myself to watch God work. I couldn’t imagine what those blessings might be—those lessons, insights, and opportunities to mature, gain wisdom, and grow in faith—but  I waited and watched. And sure enough, He did bring beauty from ashes.

I wish that every time hardship blindsided me, I’d have watched for the goodness He worked, but I admit I rarely have.

Maybe you’ve had the same experience.

Not all is lost at such times, though, if we think back and search for those good things God brought. They’re just waiting for us to recognize them.

But too often I’ve forgotten to go back and look for the gems He unearthed from my dirt. I feel bad about that.

Mike Metzger’s quote has come to mind frequently in the years since I ran across it:

“Many churches have forgotten the premium
that the historic Judeo-Christian tradition placed on
remembrance…and recalling the right things.
The ‘great sin’ of the Old Testament was forgetfulness
(at least it is the most recurrent offense).
Remember’ is the most frequent command
in the Old Testament.” 
(Clapham Memo, January 19, 2007,
“Back and Forth,” by Mike Metzger; emphasis mine)

Because of Mike’s quote, in recent years I’ve made an effort to remember what God has done for me and my family. Doing so requires me to set aside time to search my memories.

By definition, writing a memoir requires us to go back, to uncover—to excavate, unearth, dig, till the soil and sift through it—looking for diamonds and emeralds.

In Psalm 86:17, David prays, “Give me a sign of your goodness.” That’s what we’re looking for: Signs of God’s goodness.

Tokens for good,” Amy Carmichael calls those signs, based on an old translation of the Bible. 

“Look out for them and you shall find them,” Amy continues. “Some will be little private tokens, something just between you and your Lord. Some will be things that you can share with others for their cheer. The great thing is not to miss them in the press of life, for often, very often, by these tokens for good our Lord helps us and comforts us.” (Edges of His Ways, July 12 selection)

So we memoirists find those treasures, those signs of goodness, and we piece them together, like stringing jewels to make a necklace. And while we do so, we examine them, we ponder and reflect on them.

In the process, we might need to stand to the side and take a different look: We need to do a “Doggie Head Tilt,” another Mike Metzger quote. He says, “If your head never tilts, your mind never changes.”

So, we tilt our heads and look at that difficulty from another angle. We rethink what happened, we reevaluate, and maybe arrive at a different conclusion than we had come to before.

We ask ourselves, What was God doing? What lessons was He teaching me? What new insights do I now have? How has my life changed as a result? What message did He give me to share with others?

Perhaps you’ve discovered this: When we start composing a memoir, we have no idea where our memories and ponderings and writings will take us

The process of writing opens our eyes and changes our hearts. It helps us discover a bigger, higher, deeper, broader story.

“The written word preserves
what otherwise might be lost
among the impressions that inundate our lives.
Thoughts, insights, and perceptions
constantly threaten to leave us
before we have the opportunity to grasp their meaning.

Writing can … give us something palpable upon which to reflect.
Reflection slows matters down.
It analyzes what was previously unexamined,
and opens doors to different interpretations
of what was there all along.
Writing, by encouraging reflection, intensifies life.”
(Editors Ben Jacobs and Helena Hjalmarsson, The Quotable Book Lover)

Our job as memoirists
is to set aside time, as long as it takes,
to follow the breadcrumb trail
God has left for us to help us find our way.

We pick up those “tokens of good”
and cherish them,
and then we do what Amy Carmichael said
in her old-fashioned way:
we “share them with others for their cheer.

In that way,
penning a memoir can be a sacred journey,
even an act of worship.

Discover the blessings God has handed you
in the midst of your hard times,
and then write your memoir,
knowing others need the “cheer” you have to offer.

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