I’ve kept all sorts of journals over the years: bullet journals, a journal of my odd dreams, food journals, art journals, travel journals and regular old “Dear Diary” journals. But by far, my favorite of all is the gift journal I gave my husband one Christmas … the journal that told him in hundreds of ways, “I love you.”
The idea to start the journal came to me because of an observation, an overheard conversation, and a message on our answering machine (yes, these were pre-voicemail days).
Our church — which we started in our backyard with just a handful of people — was in its third year at this point, and we were going through a difficult time. As the church outgrew our backyard, and then a grange hall, bingo hall and motorcycle shop, it transformed. We went from being a small, intimate group of friends to a much larger, living organism full of people who didn’t always get along with each other. I suppose that’s a post for another time. Suffice it to say, Dave felt and internalized every disturbance that came along, and the weight he carried showed itself clearly.
One battle followed another, often with very little breathing room between. We had just gone through a truly devastating goodbye during this time, and were juggling that with a few smaller fires. But no matter how loud or angry or petty the criticisms were, Dave always responded with patience and love. It isn’t his nature to fight back. He’ll stand his ground, and he’ll explain himself, but he won’t fight back. Though I already knew that, I was surprised one day to watch how gently he dealt with an accuser. The man disagreed with one of the decisions the church’s elders had made, and he went straight to Dave to make his argument. In the course of just ten minutes, I watched Dave’s gentle response soothe the man’s agitation, and by the time it was over, so was the anger.
I wanted him to know that I had seen, and heard, and that I admired him tremendously for his patient, kind nature. I could have just walked up and told him that, but decided a note or card would be better, and more lasting. So I jotted a note to myself, and then forgot about it.
And then the following Sunday, I overheard two women talking about Dave. One had come to us feeling very skittish and wary from a harsh church experience, and it had taken awhile for her to warm up to the rest of us. But warm up she did, and now she was in the kitchen drying dishes and telling the other how her trust had been restored. “It was Pastor Dave. He wore me down with his kindness … he made me feel safe.”
I’ll add that to the note I meant to write, I thought. Pulling out the wrinkled note from the bottom of my purse, I added a line about that conversation.
Dave went to a meeting that afternoon, so I took the kids and went home to start dinner. The answering machine light was on, so I pushed the button to hear the message. And within a few sentences, I started to cry.
It was a man from church who called to tell Dave how much the sermon had meant to him, and how it had touched a rock-hard part of his heart, and how he wanted to change. He wanted more of God, and he wanted God to have more of him. There was more, but before I heard it all, I grabbed a pencil, rewound the message, and began to transcribe those healing, encouraging words.
So now I had a list of three. And suddenly, a note or card didn’t seem weighty enough. So I chose one of my blank journals and started writing. To that list of three, I added how much it blessed me when I saw his patience with our kids, and how I appreciated the way he appeared whenever I pulled up the driveway with groceries, and wouldn’t let me carry any in.
I told Dave about the phone call when he came home from his meeting, but I didn’t give him the journal. Because it had occurred to me that I had the makings of perhaps the greatest gift I could ever give him — a whole book about him, and how wonderful I think he is.
That was late spring. From then until Christmas, I ran to the journal every time I had another bit of encouragement to share with him — things I saw; things I heard. I added scripture whenever I read a verse or passage that made me think of him. I shared some of the funny moments we’d had that year.
My excitement, as the days before Christmas melted away, was all set on that gift. I coudn’t wait to hand him that little gift-wrapped book, and watch as he opened it and found all the love within. The memory of that day will stay with me forever.
I’ve written similar journals to him over the years, and I’ve written them for others. This past year, for our son’s birthday, my daughter-in-law thought it would be nice if we all wrote letters to Zac. So I ordered this journal and we all filled it with notes to him. He unwound the leather strap, opened the front cover, saw that it was full of notes, and shut it again. Through tears, he said, “I’ll have to read these later.”
Words are free. Have you ever thought about how amazing that is? It costs nothing to take a few moments a day, or a few times a week, and put a few syllables together to create a touch of courage, or healing. It’s what we all need.
I’m working on journals for each of my grandchildren. I’m telling them what I admire most about them, and how just their existence changed my life forever. I’m reminding them of funny things they’ve said, and sharing what I’d do differently with my life, if I could, and what I’d never, ever change.
If you’d like to do this for someone, please start right now, before it gets lost in the mound of other good ideas we want to do but manage to forget. Get a plain journal, or a leather journal, or something in between, and grab a pen. Here are some journal starters for you:
- What do you love most about this person?
- What do others think of them?
- What are your favorite memories together?
- What are your funniest memories?
- What good things have you overheard from others?
- What are your wishes for that person?
- What poems, song lyrics or scriptures make you think of that person, and why?
If you start such a journal, I’d love to hear about it! Once you start, it becomes addicting. We always mean to speak comfort and courage to our loved ones; this journal helps to make that a reality.