Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, March 14, 2008

Write the Best Book First

by Kerry Blair

As much as I look forward to the next General Conference, I don’t know how it could be more meaningful to me than the last one. My husband, two youngest children and I crammed into a small, smelly motel room in Yuma, Arizona to watch the Sunday morning session on a too-bright television screen with poor reception. The apostles looked like Wiggles when I squinted, and I squinted a lot because of joyful tears welling in my eyes. I’d been weeping for hours. The night before, my youngest son had stepped off a plane onto American soil, safe and sound—body and soul—after a long, heart-wringing tour in Iraq.

As you might recall, the first speaker that morning was President Henry B. Eyring. He told about returning home late one day to find his father-in-law performing an act of service at their home. As he entered the house the Spirit told him: I’m not giving you these experiences for yourself. Write them down.

Never one to ignore God, President Eyring took out pen and paper and began to write. He continued the practice every day for years, never missing a day regardless of how busy or weary he was. He said: As I kept at it, something began to happen . . . I would see evidence of what God had done for one of us that I had not recognized . . . As that happened, and it happened often, I realized that trying to remember had allowed God to show me what He had done. More than gratitude began to grow in my heart. Testimony grew. I became ever more certain that our Heavenly Father hears and answers prayers . . . I grew more confident that the Holy Ghost can bring all things to our remembrance—even things we did not notice or pay attention to when they happened.

I was thrilled. It was testimony from a prophet of God about a principal that had profoundly shaped my life. The Spirit spoke to me that morning and I determined to finally pass on the greatest blessing in my life. Within a week I bought each of my children a “gratitude journal” in which to record the tender mercies manifest in their lives. I gave them the books, with my testimony, at Christmas. I don’t know if any of them are keeping a record, faithfully or otherwise, but I do know that if they are, it will turn out to be the best gift I’ve given them since that “life” thing.

I started a gratitude journal when I was in third grade, though I didn’t know to call it that then. They had yet to become trendy and inspire software programming. (I suspect even Oprah hadn’t thought of doing it, and she was already in junior high!) Mine began serendipitously. I was an avid treasure hunter. On my longish walks to and from school, I searched the breadth of the path through the “woods,” and the depths of the gutters that lined the paved street. Each day I spied bits of colored glass, pretty rocks, sometimes even a barrette or mummified beetle. I never picked anything up. In fact, I often dropped a shiny penny or thimble or something equally valuable along the way. (I not only believed whole-heartedly in Borrowers and fairies and displaced leprechauns, I thought they relied on my generosity to survive.) My satisfaction came in faithfully listing every treasure I saw in my Red Man tablet. (This, youngsters, is a pad of lined paper with a red cover that depicted an Indian chief in full headdress. They don’t make them anymore, and if it’s culturally insensitive even to mention them in 2008, accept my apologies.)

As the days passed, I progressed from listing joys I found in the dirt to enumerating less tangible blessings that brought me happiness. A list from an actual third-grade Red Man dated September 22:

1) Suzie Hicks picked ME. (Presumably for a team.)
2) ding dong in my lunch!!!!!!!
3) 100 spelling!!! (Presumably a quiz, but it could have been a new list of words and I’d have been just as pleased. I loved spelling!)
4) Peanuts doesnt stink. as much. (Peanuts was my dog. I’m guessing she was de-skunkified by my father while I was at school.)
5) Friday!!!! (I’m not quite as enthused these days. It has something to do with blogging, I fear.)

I think we’d all acknowledge that these are major mercies to an eight-year-old. Funny thing, I can look back on them years and years (and years and years and years!) later and still feel happy and blessed and loved by my Father in Heaven all over again.

I’ve kept these lists on-and-off for most of my life. As I matured, the red tablets became green spiral notebooks, and then flowered diaries, and at last hardbound journals – dozens of them. The blessings I’ve listed have ranged from ridiculous (“only TWO pimples”) to life-altering (“first missionary lesson—amazing”) to sublime (“Scott was born today”)

I write down five things every single day, no matter what. (Why five? Who knows? I aimed for five treasures every day in 3rd grade and it stuck with me, I guess.) There are days when I’ve thanked God that my daughter’s surgery was successful; my son returned from Iraq; my very life was spared in an accident. And there are the “mundane” days when I have to pause to think before putting pen to paper. Sometimes these days are the best of all because it is then that I might be inspired to remember a special friend, acknowledge a rare beauty of creation, or finally jot down one of the hundreds of mercies I take for granted that are in reality the basis of all the joy and meaning in my life.

Elder Eyring continued: My point is to urge you to find ways to recognize and remember God’s kindness. (Note: this is my point, too, in case you’re missing it!) It will build your testimonies . . . You will be blessed as you remember what the Lord has done. You remember that song we sometimes sing: “Count your many blessings; name them one by one, And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”

Counting my blessings—literally, every day—has truly been surprising. It’s also been the best antidote in the world for self-pity and discouragement. On “down” days I can hold a gratitude journal in my hand and see and feel and smell and even taste (if I want to) tangible proof that the Lord is mindful of me—always. I can open any book to any page on any day and be reminded of how good life is—even on days when it isn’t. (Especially on days when it isn’t.)

Henry David Thoreau advised: Read the best books first or you may never have time to read them at all. I think this behooves us as writers as well. If we write the best books first, our gratitude journals, we will be greatly blessed in whatever we turn to next.
It’s possible, I suppose, that someday somebody in heaven (probably Orson Whitney. Or maybe Rob Wells) might pick up one of our novels and comment on it. It’s probable, however, that our journals will be read—aloud—and that it will be from those sacred pages that we are measured.

I wish I could give each of you a gratitude journal like I did my kids. At least I can accomplish the same thing by making those of you who don’t already have one promise me that you’ll find something today, if only a notepad, and list five blessings. Do it again tomorrow. Do it faithfully every day between now and Conference. If you do, come that Saturday morning, you won’t be the same person you are at this moment. I promise.

But, hey, you don’t have to believe me. You have the word of an apostle of God on it. Offers simply don’t come with better guarantees than that!

Just do it.


At 3/14/2008 11:26 AM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

I just have to tell you that I'm running for my gratitude journal this minute! It is the first time in the history of the world that I have posted a blog without having to fight paragraph spacing for an hour or more.

Come to think of it, that isn't a tender mercy, it's a miracle!

At 3/14/2008 11:46 AM, Blogger Jennie said...

Kerry, what a great reminder to be grateful--even when life is hard; especially when life is hard. It's so easy to get caught up in the gloomy state of world affairs, messy politics, financial fears, children who don't live up to their potential, poor health, deadlines, etc. I know you're right; we do become happier and closer to God when we notice the crocuses are blooming, buds are swelling, it's someone dear's birthday, a son returns from war, surgery was successful, or a child called (even a small grandson who called to tell grandma he went poopy in the big toilet). Today I'm grateful for you and want to tell you how glad I am you wrote Counting Blessings; it's such a tender reminder of so many things that make life rich and full. I hope you sell a million copies.

At 3/14/2008 11:52 AM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

Jennie Hansen, if you had any idea how many times I've written your name in my gratitude journals since 2000 you would blush! Just know that when I count my blessings, you just keep coming up again and again and again and again and again.

At 3/14/2008 12:02 PM, Blogger Cheri J. Crane said...

Excellent blog, Kerry. I applaud your efforts to keep and maintain journals, especially those extolling gratitude.

Sadly, I didn't start keeping a journal until I was in high school. (And yes, that particular journal will be burned long before I pass from mortal mode. It contains items like my first kiss, etc.)

I've kept a variety of journals through the years. I started a very different kind of journal in January. It contains a collection of happy, positive quotes, thoughts, poetry, etc. as well as snippets of inspiring scriptures and what they mean to me. I'm hoping it will be a boost on days when life takes a downturn.

I like your idea, though. Five things to be grateful for every day. Let's see, today I'm grateful that it's not snowing . . .

At 3/14/2008 2:40 PM, Blogger Annette Lyon said...

This brought tears to my eyes. Thanks, Kerry.

(Can't wait to see you next week at the conference--you sure light up a room.)

At 3/14/2008 3:12 PM, Blogger Michele Holmes said...

Fridays are still on my blessings list---in part because I have your blogs to look forward to. This one was beautiful. Thank you for the poignant reminder.

At 3/14/2008 6:17 PM, Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

This was lovely, Kerry. Thank you!

At 3/14/2008 8:22 PM, Blogger Marsha Ward said...

How wonderful you are, Sweet Kerry, definitely a blessing in my life. I went and picked out a journal from the collection of empty ones I've been hoarding. The cover has bright, daisy-type cartoon flowers on it, all with tongue tips showing through smiley mouths. I bought up a bunch when they were on clearance--clearly not a big seller for Joe Boxer or K-mart, but just the thing for my newly-started Gratitude Journals!

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And amen on the paragraph spacing!

At 3/14/2008 9:19 PM, Blogger Marnie Pehrson said...

Now we know why you have such a phenomenal attitude about life! You're amazing, Kerry! When I count my blessings, you're always there. Speaking of Counting Blessings, I can't wait to get hold of your book! Enjoy your trip to Utah! Wish I could be there.

At 3/18/2008 1:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm late chiming in here, Kerry, but that was absolutely beautiful. You have no clue how powerful you are with your words. Made me all misty-eyed and it's a good reminder to get my gratitude journal back out...

You're awesome, lady.

At 3/22/2008 9:53 PM, Blogger Canamerican said...

Thank you so much for your thoughts! I am giving a Relief Society lesson on Pres. Eyring's talk and came across your blog in my typical searchings before I sit down to plan out the lesson. You have a sweet insightfulness! Thank you!!!Thank you!!! It is nice to read a blog that is positive for a change! And by the way...I just started my Gratitude Journal once's been years and I have SO many blessings!


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