Documenting Your Life Journey

Journal “At the Lord’s command Moses recorded the stages in their journey…” Numbers 33:2

I journaled regularly when I was a teenager, but I dropped the practice when I got married–just about the same time I actually began to have something of substance to journal about!  That was a mistake. I missed out on the joy of writing (and later, reading) my motherly dreams as I carried each of my children, of recording their entrances into this world and my transition into motherhood, of documenting the funny, precious, priceless things they said and did as they grew up. I missed out on the opportunity to document my 17-year journey of criss-crossing America on a motorcycle, my impressions of the vast and varied landscapes that I traveled through, and the beautiful array of people I met during all those travels. I missed my chance  to record my initiation into air travel (I took my first flight at the age of 30) and after that my baptism into cultures outside the U.S. as I began traveling regularly to other countries.

I have had a rich, rich life—but, sadly, there is a huge gap in the written version. This is one of my greatest regrets.

Journal the Sorrows

In 2000, I went through a major trauma, and I did not record the “stages of that journey” either. Had I known that it was going to culminate in a major life change, I’m sure I would have. This is one of the reasons I try to stay consistent with journaling now; I don’t know what events, circumstances, people, and/or places may be weaving themselves into the significant tapestry of my life.

Had I been consistently recording my journey back in 2000, I am certain I would have made some personal discoveries that would have brought me to a state of peace in the midst of the trauma much sooner. Though the outcome would not have been different, the process of journaling would have given me a broader–almost objective—perspective of my situation. In general, journaling helps me see “the big picture;” it helps me arrive at correct conclusions much more quickly than when viewing my options through my thoughts alone.

Fortunately, shortly AFTER the climax of ‘the trauma,’ I did begin to journal again. It wasn’t something I planned to do or was advised to do; it just happened. I was struggling one day, and I knew I had to get myself together. I gathered up my Bible and notebook and went to a quiet little coffee shop, found a table tucked privately in a corner, and I began to write. The words flowed, it seemed:

“I am not a victim…”

To this day, I am still amazed at the power those opening words immediately had on me. I had not articulated that statement before. It came from the recesses of my soul, from my spirit, no doubt. I wrote a few short paragraphs, mostly declarative statements based on the Word of God, and then this conclusion:

“I am confident of this: I will see the goodness of The Lord in the land of the living.”

That simple, quiet event in that nondescript coffee shop was a turnaround for me. That was the day my healing began.

After that, I journaled regularly. It was like therapy, like having someone to talk to at all hours of the day or night; a place to work honestly, brutally, through my thoughts and emotions. My journal was far more than a record of events; it was my brain, my emotions, in writing. It was a way to thoughtfully interact with God, like praying on paper.

In The Other 90%: How to Unlock Your Vast Untapped Potential for Leadership & Life, author Robert K. Cooper writes regarding journaling:

Write it down. The act of writing about an experience has been shown to release negative emotions and create heightened ability in dealing with adversity. Research indicates that those who write about traumatic events for 20 minutes a day for 4 consecutive days have significantly more robust immune systems and report less distress than the people who did no writing.

I totally get that! Journaling was definitely a factor in my healing.

I was still journaling when I met my husband, Steve. I’m thankful that that part of my journey is recorded! Soon after we married, though, I quit journaling again. In some ways, I guess the absence of journaling was validation that life was normal and healthy. I chose to live it rather than write about it. However, in hindsight, I realize now that that is a mistaken point of view. The journey–all of it–should be documented to some extent.

I started getting back into journaling last year. I started very simply, recording the highlights of my day just before I went to bed: what I did, what I learned, what I was going to do the next day (See A Productive End-of-the-Day Ritual). Soon, I expanded it beyond that and began–again–recording in more detail the stages of my journey.

Journal the Joys

I have found journaling to be the BEST way to work through problems and to process internal conflict. But it is also a great way to document the joys of life. For instance, I took a spontaneous walk one Fall afternoon to enjoy the colors at the peak of their glory. It was an amazing experience! I was so moved, I wrote a blog post about it (see Mindfulness), but that post was actually the “public view” of my personal journal.

This past weekend, my two youngest grandsons had their first basketball games (they are 6 and 8). It was a delight to attend this event and to watch them hustle their little hearts out and to be part of the cheering crowd when they each scored a basket.

The day after the game, Shepherd asked his mother if his team won. Misty informed him that she didn’t know because no one kept score. Shepherd was highly offended. No one kept score??? He wanted to know why. Every game has a winner and a loser.

Misty tried to appease the up-and-coming allstar with reason. “We just want you to have fun playing the game… It doesn’t really matter who wins; it just matters that you learn to play the game and that you have a good time and that you learn to be a good sport…”

Not convinced, Shepherd responded indignantly, “Actually,” (yes, he really said ‘actually’) “sometimes you win because you work hard” (which, of course, should be acknowledged in the score).

Now where do you record something that beautiful if you don’t have a blog? In your journal, of course!

Journal Life Lessons

Not only is a journal a place to bear witness to the good and beautiful in your life as well as the tragic and traumatic, it can also serve as a sounding board for your ongoing “life study”—whatever it may be. As I’ve shared often, I am a fan of good books. I most always have a book going, and sometimes, depending on the types of book, I may be reading two or more at a time (this is rare, but it does happen in certain circumstances).

I have only recently discovered the benefit of using my journal as a place to debrief about what I am reading. I may state my personal exceptions to the premise of the book (like a critic) or the highlights or my favorite concepts or how I plan to apply what I read. Last year I read a very lengthy biography about Teddy Roosevelt. It didn’t seem appropriate after all the time I had invested in it to just pack it up and rush it back to the library. The read was a “long journey,” and it had to somehow be commemorated.

I located a couple of anecdotes that had made me laugh and recorded those. Now, they’re saved for my posterity. In the midst of the serious, the mundane and the joyful journal entries, there are now some snippets interjected from an arduous read (at times) that give testimony to my quirky sense of humor as much as to my love for reading.

Along the same lines, a journal is a perfect place to process and feedback on teaching from church, school, seminars and training classes, etc. If it was worthy of the time you spent sitting there, surely it is worthy of capturing more thoroughly and internalizing!

Getting Started

If you’re not already in the habit of journaling, I suggest you start very simply by taking five or ten minutes at the end of your day and following some form of the “simple” journal that I started with and wrote about in A Productive End-of-the-Day Ritual.

If you’re ready to move on to something a little more detailed, I can recommend the Day One app which allows you to “illustrate” your journal with photos, tag your entries for easy searching, save to the cloud, and even share certain entries if you choose to. It has other cool features like noting your location and the current weather at the time of your journal entry. The main drawback is that it is only available on Mac products: iPhone, iPad or Mac computers. And it is not a free app. It’s one of the few apps I’ve ever paid for, and I’m glad I did.

There are many other digital journals out there, so if Day One is not for you, you have lots of options. You might enjoy EverydayMe, which not only serves as a journal, but automatically records every Facebook and Twitter post that you make, as well.

Do you journal? If so, what is your main purpose? To process through difficulties, to record the joys, or to just keep a written record of life? Do you ever journal about what you are learning in books and/or teachings? Please leave a comment. And if you have a digital journal you can recommend, please share that in the comments, as well.

Photo compliments of Mark Hunter via Compfight

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14 Responses to Documenting Your Life Journey

  1. Elsie says:

    As always I like reading your posts. I started keeping a journal three years ago as I went through a program with my SE which required us to journal. Like you said having a track of my journey and processing internal conflicts have been footsteps towards greater maturity for me. I generally journal about everything and anything and reflections.
    I have learnt that this is a great exercise and when I don’t journal it feels like something is missing.I usually go back and I amazed at the revelations that are hidden in my writing and it is definitely a great resource that I plan to have for each and every season of my life!!!!

    • Diane says:

      Beautiful comment, Elsie! I love your phrase, “footsteps towards greater maturity…” And I agree: there are often “revelations” hidden in my writing, too. Sometimes I surprise myself. Do you?

  2. Maria says:

    Hi Diane, I loved reading this post. I I used to journal a lot, it was something I naturally started shortly after I gave my life to God when I was 14. There was this sense that from now on, every day would be significant and that it was important to capture my prayers and musings, my dreams, my hopes, my struggles and what I heard God saying to me. I used to take it everywhere because I always wanted to be able to refer back to what God has been saying and be able to record it.
    In recent years my journal became the place where I took my notes on meetings and teaching but I only recently realised that writing simply from my heart is so important for the very reasons you stated above. I’ve started writing a little more but I may extend a bit more… I find it hard to decide whether or not to use digital forms of recording or pen and paper?
    Hmm… I’ll have a think!
    Thank you for the ideas!

    • Diane says:

      I love the way you put it, Maria–“every day would be significant and that it was important to capture…” That’s really a beautiful way of looking at journaling.
      As for using handwriting or digital writing, I have to go with digital. Prior to last year, my journal was in notebooks. It took me a little while to make the transition to digital writing, but I am so glad I pressed through. The main reasons are: 1) I can type faster than I can write, so I don’t get bogged down in the process; 2) all my entries are in one place (as opposed to numerous notebooks); 3) and the main reason is for “searchability.” There have been times when I wanted to go back to a specific entry, and I couldn’t find it because I wasn’t exactly sure of when I wrote it. With a digital journal, it’s a piece of cake to find with the search function. And one more reason: 4) I can read my digital version so much easier than the handwritten ones. Even though I don’t have terrible penmanship, it is still more laborious to read than a typed version.
      But, in the end, you have to go with what’s best for you. You may find the handwriting process to be more beneficial. The main thing, of course, is that you’re documenting the journey–in SOME way.

  3. Cindy Lofton says:

    Diane- this post was really encouraging (and persuasive!). Just like you, I used to journal a LOT in my wee years before much substance was in my life to really journal about. But since marriage and kids, it’s been few and far between, mainly due to thinking I’m “too tired” or “too busy”. And many times I’ve made it too hard on myself and think I have to write 5 pages, so then I don’t do it at all! I know it will be a discipline at first until it becomes just a natural response to everyday life. Anyway, reading this reignited a desire in me to do this more, especially in light of the apps you mentioned. It hadn’t even dawned on me that apps like that existed, but I love the idea of organizing my everyday pics, videos or thoughts in the style of a journal. That verse in Numbers was enough motivation to get started, too!

    • Diane says:

      Thanks for the comment, Cindy. I soooo remember WHY I didn’t journal when my kids were little–same reasons as yours! However, like you said, we didn’t have the same tools back then, so it should be a little easier now. And I would suggest, in your case, that you keep the entries short and sweet so it doesn’t start to feel like a burdensome chore. Maybe after developing the habit, you’ll be drawn to write longer entries just for the joy of it. But for now, just write a brief summary of the day and any highlights (funny or sweet things the kids say and do). By taking the pressure off yourself, you’re more likely to stay committed. And some day you’ll look back and be so thankful! And so will your kids!

  4. Julie Cox says:

    I enjoyed your post! I have journaled since my late twenties (so for 20 years now) and it’s been for several purposes. Sometimes as a mom to young kids it would help me stay focused during my quiet time with the Lord. Too hard to get distracted when you are writing out your thoughts and prayers. I’ve also used it to record significant dreams, major events, trials, and just really to track my journey with the Lord. It’s interesting how when pressures of life sometimes seem overwhelming, journaling thoughts and feelings really brings clarity and perspective. I too sometimes tend to journal less when nothing “major” is going on in my life. But in the past 6 months or so I am trying to journal even the little things just to keep tracking my process and so I don’t leak anything I have felt the Lord tell me. Recently I have been on a journey with thyroid cancer, and by journaling I am seeing the faithfulness of God in an amazing way and I’m able to capture it through journaling!

    • Diane says:

      Julie, Thanks for the beautiful comments. I so agree about the clarity that journaling can bring to a situation. I think it’s wonderful that you are journaling through the cancer process. I trust that you will be able to journal about your healing soon. Having the WHOLE process documented will be a priceless treasure to you and your family, I am sure.

      • Elsie says:

        Wow reading everyone’s comments is really encouraging to me.
        As a young single lady I desire even more to track the journey of my life.
        And yes Diane I do amaze myself sometime!!

  5. i love how sometimes the perfect encouragement comes at the perfect time….just last week i decided to start “Project Life” where you create a journal/scrapbook one week at a time throughout the year….i used to compile a photo album/scrapbook every single year beginning the year i was married. i made a “yearbook” (as my family calls them) for every year from 2000-2009…i even retroactively made on for the 4 years i was in college, but then, life with 2 small children took my attention away from journaling and documenting our lives. Due to some crises in life, i journaled extensively for several years to help cope with the hard times, and to seek insight from God during those times by journaling and reading the Word of God more intensely, but then, busy-ness took over again, and now, 4 years later, we have no “yearbook” to show! I know that the old system I had is too time-consuming & costly for our current phase of life, so i just finished researching options, and have settled on Project Life. I will be modifying it a bit to make it more affordable, but i am using the philosophy: evey week fill one page with photos, clippings, journal cards, etc to document life that week. some weeks will be filled with exciting things, and some weeks may just have photos, and another week may just have a grocery list and a Bible verse(s). Anyway, at the end of the year there will be at least 50 pages of LIFE filling the book! My husband and children love our yearbooks, and they are excited that i will be reviving this tradition. i also journal (privately) several days a week about the most personal things in life, and that is now digital since it is easier than pen & paper (even though that is still my favorite way to journal)….wow, sorry so long! i was just so excited, & further encourged to take on this new endeavor!

    • Diane says:

      Jessica, I love the idea of a weekly page for your family yearbook. I can imagine how much your family will enjoy this both now and in the years to come.

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