Learning to ‘Treasure up the words of life’
I have always been fascinated with real life stories.
Since my own life is so dull, I’ve made a living by writing about other people’s stories. Over the course of my career in journalism I’ve interviewed World War II and Vietnam veterans, professional/college coaches and athletes, authors, other members of the media, administrators, law enforcement, accident victims, politicians, religious leaders and pretty much any other type of person you can think of. They’ve all had something interesting and unique to offer.
Recently I reflected on my interest in good stories and recognized a life-long pattern.
I began reading the biographies of famous U.S. presidents and other famous Americans as a kid at the Garland Elementary School. The details of their lives (George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin and others) fascinated me.
My love of biographies has carried over in to adulthood. I especially love reading about presidents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I recently read “To the Rescue: The Biography of Thomas S. Monson,” and I’m currently into “I Will Lead You Along: The Life of Henry B. Eyring.”
But you don’t have to be a general authority to have a cool life story. That is the beauty of it. Everyone has different, compelling, dramatic, and powerful experiences. If preserved, these experiences can touch lives. Elder W. Craig Zwick of the First Quorum of the Seventy has said:
“Life is filled with these types of teaching and learning moments, and we believe it is impossible to overestimate the influence our own stories can have on us, our children and future generations. But if we and those we love are to benefit from these moments, we would be wise to ‘treasure up … the words of life'” (Doctrine and Covenants 84:85).
Elder Zwick and his wife co-wrote “More to Your Story,” which contains a lot of great advice for recording powerful personal experiences. Here is a link to the Deseret News article I wrote after my interview with Elder Zwick.
I’m not ready to tackle my own life story yet, but when it I do, I look forward to fun project that hopefully my family and future posterity will appreciate.
I’ve been fortunate to help a number of people with their histories. Last May I published “No Excuses, No Regrets: The Eric Weddle Story,” which followed the life and career of San Diego Charger safety Eric Weddle. I’ve completed projects for my grandparents and my wife’s grandparents.
And on Oct. 23, I posted this on Facebook:
“I’m usually the last person to want to bring up Christmas this early, but I have a gift idea for you to consider. In an effort to earn some extra money, I’m offering my skills to anyone who wants to write a life history or family history. My services are affordable, and in my experience, family history projects make very meaningful gifts. I can also shoot and edit video interviews, or make slideshows. If you are interested, send me a message and we’ll get started!”
I’m excited to report that I have four projects in progress with Christmas deadlines. I don’t plan to stop after Christmas, as long as someone is interested in my services.
You don’t need to be a professional writer to tell your stories and learn from them, Elder Zwick told me. Simple stories and experiences that are honestly shared can affect others in a variety of positive ways. While many may see their life as uneventful or mundane, all you need to do is consider a situation, challenge or unique opportunity from your life and ask three questions:
1. What did I learn?
2. Why was it significant to me?
3. Therefore, what?
“There is power in teaching true principles the same way we learned them,” Elder Zwick said. “The purpose of all of us in mortality is to learn through our experiences, whatever they may be. Stories infuse our life with meaning. We are hear to learn from our experiences. … For the experience to be meaningful to you, it needs to be verbalized or written. … Until you speak or write about it, it doesn’t have power in your life.”
As a quick example, consider this story a friend recently shared with me:
“When I was in sixth grade, I tried out for the premiere traveling team in the area and made it. Some of my friends were also on the team. I was excited to be a member of the team, but there was a problem. The head coach swore and cursed like crazy, worse than a sailor. Constant swearing was new to me because it wasn’t an issue growing up. I have never heard my parents say a single swear word in my entire life, so it really bugged me.
“I spoke to my parents about the situation. I told them I didn’t like it but I still wanted to be on the team, which consisted of the best players in town. It even looked like I would be able to start and see a lot of playing time. My parents said it was my choice. So I decided to quit the team, but it was up to me to break the news to the coach. So one day after practice I pulled the coach aside.
“I’m not going to be able to play on the team,” I said.
“Why?” he said, surprised.
“Because there is too much swearing going on,” I said.
“The coach told me I needed to grow up because that’s what happens in life. He made fun of me, like I was a little boy. If I couldn’t handle “the big boy stuff” he didn’t want me on the team anyway.
“At first I felt really bad. Maybe he was right. Maybe I was a wimp. Maybe I do need to toughen up. But I couldn’t deny that I felt it was the right thing to do. I wasn’t supposed to be on that team. For a couple of years, even into high school, I felt weird and awkward around those kids from the team. I assumed they knew why I’d quit, and maybe they thought I was a wimp or something. But I ended up in a better circle of friends and looking back, I’m so glad I left the team. I’m grateful that I had the courage to do it and that it was my choice, and that my parents didn’t make me do it. I did it for myself. The experience of making that choice has continued to be a blessing to me.”
Can you see how valuable that story might be to my friend’s family? Perhaps in time one of his kids or grandkids will face a similar situation and take courage in doing the right thing because they know this story.
As a parting thought, I like these words by author Lee Nelson:
“The elements in great stories, the stories that never die, are the same elements we see in our lives. The great stories parallel the lives of human beings. All of us are reluctant heroes or heroines engaged in life’s journey.”
For more information on family history work or recording your history, visit familysearch.org.