By Kathryn Graves, Crosswalk.com
“Mimi, how did you and Poppy meet?’
This inquiry from my eleven-year-old grandson caught me off-guard. I was staying at his house for a few weeks, helping care for his toddler brother. Carson and I were hanging out after school one afternoon when he popped that question.
I never expected a pre-teen boy to care about anything like that. But my experience illustrates a larger truth. Our grandkids want to know our personal history. I’d even suggest they need to know it.
I have two sisters adopted from children’s homes in South Korea. Nobody knows their family stories—and this lack has left a hole in their hearts. They have both made attempts to discover anything they can, but the information is limited. Enough time has passed that even with DNA technology, it’s very difficult to track down any relatives.
My sisters’ need is not unique to adopted children. Every person has a built-in desire to know about their family heritage. It encompasses our entire being—the physical, concerning medical issues, the emotional pull of feeling connected, and also our spirits.
God knew this when He instructed us in the Bible to pass down to succeeding generations our Christian faith.
Deuteronomy 4:9 specifically instructs grandparents to teach their grandchildren “the things your eyes have seen.” What have your eyes seen that you should tell your grandchildren? And better yet, how can you write down these wonderful memories for generations to come?
1. Your Birth Story
While you don’t remember your birth, your parents probably told you all about it. Where did your family live? Do you have any photos of the house or apartment? Were there any unusual circumstances surrounding your birth?
Mine was a bit unusual because my parents moved from one city to a nearby city just before I was born. Since my mother’s doctor was in the first city, she went back there to the hospital. Thus, my birthplace is recorded as a city where I never actually lived.
Details like these will intrigue your grandkids.
2. Your Childhood Home
My parents moved two more times before my fourth birthday. But then they settled in a tidy suburban neighborhood. Describing our house and surrounding area to my grandkids is a bit like describing the face of the moon to them since it was so long ago and far away.
But because of my network of little girlfriends, I can help them understand it. As I describe Paula’s house and Tina’s, Kim’s and Marcia’s and Debbie’s, a picture of a real community emerges. I remember our street address—and if you do, be sure to include it.
You never know if a grandchild might want to find your old place. My children know my mother grew up in the downtown section of a large midwestern city and have investigated the neighborhood even though we don’t know which street she lived on. This information helps them feel grounded in a geographic place.
3. A Childhood Memory
Choose at least one fun childhood memory to relate and tell how it was God’s blessing. It doesn’t have to be anything major. I remember how much fun my family had going ice skating on a nearby pond with our church group. The men built a bonfire and the women brought hot chocolate and marshmallows to roast.
I loved watching my parents, who were accomplished skaters, as they glided across the ice. I shuffled my feet with skates strapped over my boots—and landed on my bottom side a lot. The fire and sweet treats helped me make it through the cold, starlit skate nights.
This memory reminds me of how much God loved me and provided me with a church family besides my parents and sisters.
Now I want to re-create it for my grandsons—and remind them of how important a church family is.
4. Your Salvation Experience
In spite of growing up in the church, I failed to understand and accept the truth of Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross for my sin until I was twenty years old. While I might not need to share all the details yet, my young grandchildren will benefit from knowing that I do trust Christ with every aspect of my daily life.
Every time I face a new decision or difficult situation, I can pray about it because I know Jesus in a personal way.
When we tell our salvation stories, they should contain three parts:
- What my life was like before I met Christ.
- What brought me to the point of knowing I needed Him as my personal Savior—and what my moment of conversion was like.
- How my life has changed since then.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Sam Edwards
5. A Trauma You Survived (and How God Used It for Good)
Most of us have experienced at least one event in our lifetime that we might characterize as traumatic. Some of us could list many.
The key to writing it for your family is to focus on how God worked in and through it for your good and His greater purpose. Romans 8:28 assures us of this truth and it’s important to convey it even in the context of difficulty.
Helping you view a terrible situation in a different way—and gain healing in the process—might be an added benefit to this exercise.
6. A Tough Life Decision
Describe how you decided on higher education (or not) and/or your career—even if you are a stay-at-home wife and mom. Be sure to include the spiritual guidance God provided if you were a Christian then. If you prayed about it, maybe you can tell something about those prayers.
Share how you met your spouse, and if you’re still married tell how you “knew for sure.” Your grandkids will also want to know how old you were at the time. If your spouse has passed away, include that story. If you were divorced, be as honest, objective, and matter-of-fact as you can. And if you re-married, be sure to tell this love story.
7. A Major Life-Change
Any event you haven’t already shared that affected the trajectory of your life—and how the Lord guided you through it—goes here. It might be a mid-life career change, a cross-country move, or the year you finally became an empty-nester.
This section will also tell about the births of your children and grandchildren—and how each was a blessing to you. They will hear some of these stories from their parents—from their parent’s perspective—but your perspective is unique and priceless.
A great way to end your stories is with your favorite/life Bible verse. Let your family know what it is and why it’s your favorite—and how it has helped you. If you have a life verse, or if you choose a verse of the year on an annual basis, this information can be eye-opening for them.
Tips for Writing Each Memory:
- Draw a diagram of your childhood neighborhood and label it with houses, businesses, and people—be as detailed as you can. This will help you recall events you might have forgotten.
- Draw a timeline on long newsprint and fill in as many important dates as you can remember. This will help you organize your stories.
- Don’t begin at the beginning of each story. Open with a moment of high drama, fill in how you got to that point, and then finish with the resolution. This will capture the attention of your younger readers—and hold it until they find out how the situation ended.
- Make each story include an action of some sort or a crisis, and how the crisis ended. If you remember or can approximate the actual conversation, include it.
- Aim for about 1,200-1,500 words per story. This is a good length to hold attention but isn’t too long either. Using a word count will help you be concise. It will also keep you from being too short on details. If you struggle to come up with this many words, 1,000 is okay, but try not to cut shorter than that. It needs to feel like a story. If you need a lot more words for a particular memory, that’s okay too—but 3,000 words should be an absolute maximum. Authors usually keep book chapters within this limit.
- If writing is not your forte, try telling your stories to someone else who will do the actual writing. You may be able to work together with a grandchild on this project. What a blessing that would be!
- Create a pdf of the entire project that you email out to your family.
- Self-publish on the internet and either make e-books or actual paper-back books.
- Print paper copies and have them spiral bound at an office supply store.
- If you use a digital platform, you can more easily include photos. One note—probably limit photos to one or two per story. This is not a photo album. It is a storybook. If you want to include a lot of photos, consider making a companion photo book. In this case, you can use a scrapbooking website to publish a beautiful, hard-cover keepsake book—but since your words will be limited, it will need to remain a companion to, and not a replacement for, your written memory book.
Writing your life stories as a keepsake for family members may be one of the most priceless gifts you ever give them. The whole project can seem daunting.
However, taking events one at a time can divide it up into smaller chunks. Spread it out over several months—or even a year—to make it more doable. Once you’ve decided on which stories to tell, set a goal of getting one written each month (or more often if you choose.) Since you’ll already know how many stories you want to write, you can automatically see an end date.
This will help you keep the task in perspective and gauge your accomplishments as you complete each one.
We can take our cue from God. He wrote His stories for us in the Bible. We’re imitating Him when we write ours—so that our families can understand how the Lord works in all things.
Photo Credit: © Getty Images/perfectlab
Kathryn Graves, author of Woven: Discovering Your Beautiful Tapestry of Confidence, Rest, and Focus, and Fashioned by God, holds a BA in Psychology, is a pastor’s wife and Bible teacher, and spent 15 years in the fashion industry. Kathryn is Mimi to five grandsons, and loves to play with color—including interior design, clothing, and painting with pastels. In addition to her website, find her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.