By Kelly Smith
Some of my most valuable possessions are in a plastic box with a snap top. It sits on a shelf in my garage surrounded by Christmas decorations, out-of-season clothes, and old VHS tapes. As I prepared to clean out the garage last week, I pulled my treasure chest off the shelf. Because it’s stuffed full, the top opened with a pop. There, tumbling out, came three-ring binders, spiral notebooks, and decorative journals—two decades of memories.
I can’t recall the number of diaries I started and abandoned in my childhood. With three younger siblings, nothing was safe—not even the secrets I kept locked in my rainbow diary from Woolworth. I started journaling seriously the summer before my senior year of high school. I struggled to untangle my teenage thoughts and felt as though my prayers bounced off the popcorn ceiling in my bedroom. Prayer journaling seemed like the ideal way to work through my thoughts.
It started off simply enough, with prayers about friend drama, a difficult relationship within my family, and college decisions. As the years progressed, so did my prayers. I prayed that a certain young man might fall in love with me (or that God would help me fall out of love with him). After that same man married me, my prayers centered around learning to be a godly wife and paying the bills with our meager income.
The years that followed included prayers for healing from a major illness, strength to endure the long wait for a baby, and wisdom as we became homeowners for the first time. One journal holds multiple handwritten versions of Psalm 51 as I worked to accept and understand God’s forgiveness for the broken road I had traveled.
Once my daughter was born, the time between entries grew longer. Quick scribbles begging for perseverance marked my struggling transition into motherhood. Some years, my prayers mingled with introspective Bible study notes. Other entries are purely survival, like watermarks on the wall after a flood. My most recent journals record my pleas for wisdom as I parent and for direction as I discover my passion and purpose.
Even my handwriting represents the stages of my life. A smile plays across my lips as I look at the loopy, hot-pink lettering of my high school years. My college years are in a textbook script, not yet burdened by the fatigue of writing in medical charts. Some of the pages hold my daughters’ drawings, an effort to keep them busy as I read God’s Word. A few months of sharp, long lines in my lettering remind me how the shift in my pen marked a desperate search for peace in my personal life.
As I read through my journals, I am all too aware of the constant changes they represent. Shifts in my mood, my heart, and my hope show up in my journals. Peace fades as dark clouds of uncertainty appear. Desperation becomes elation. I work out my feelings and my faith on those pages. The flow of ink is dynamic as I grow and stall and grow again.
From the beginning until now, however, one thing remains unchanged: God. As I blossomed from child to woman, wife to mother, he remained as constant as the sunrise. He showed up every day, in every situation. Sometimes his quiet presence held me in peace; other times his correction guided me toward sanctification. He felt very near on most pages; I felt lost on some of them. With the turn of each page, his presence is real and evident.
When I remember the Old Testament greats, I know I tell the same story of God’s faithfulness in my journals. As I read the Psalms, I see similar glimpses of God’s glory. Jesus’s love as recorded in the Gospels is also recorded in my own handwriting. Some of my words mirror the working out of theology and salvation in the Epistles. The hope of Jesus’s second coming in Revelation is woven through the pages of my life.
The circumstances of our lives will change from one season to the next—sometimes drastically, sometimes subtly. Journals serve as a record of our journey as well as a record of God’s faithfulness. Remembering—through a journal or by quietly reflecting on days past—reminds us of the faithfulness of our God.
As you remember the past, you can find hope for the future. The God of creation, redemption, and rescue is the same God who holds you now.
Kelly Smith is a small town girl who married a small town man. They have three children. In the quiet minutes of her day, you will find her at the keyboard or curled up with a book–always with coffee. Kelly believes we are created for community and loves to find ways to connect with other women who are walking in the shadow of the cross. She blogs at mrsdisciple.com.
Photograph © Ilya Ilyukhin, used with permission