The Keepsake Journal: Expressions of a Mother's Heart

Courtney Dunkin, Contributing Writer
The years pass by so quickly, as every mother will tell you. The days of motherhood are full, with hardly a moment to stop and just be still. We work hard from the early morning hours to late at night. We are stretched to our limits, both physically and emotionally, sacrificing much of ourselves for the purpose of this high calling.
We have but a few short years to prepare the souls of our children for eternity, and these years are not free of challenges and hardships. But within those years is a storehouse of little moments to treasure.
So many of these moments can be forgotten and left in the past as our families grow and time fades them. Pictures and other keepsakes have the power to transcend time and take us back to another time and place, but they can’t always tell a story the way written words can.
I keep a journal for each child so I can record their story and share it with them later. Looking back, my heart is warmed as I cherish those precious memories. Words can’t always reach the depth of our emotions, but they can revive those memories that we’ve stored deep within our souls.
Those moments when time stands still and you are living fully and completely in the present, realizing the abundance of the blessings in your life.
Like today, when I stopped what I was doing as my youngest son climbed into my lap to snuggle. I was weighed down with worry over a certain hardship my family is facing, but this little moment helped me to change my perspective and gave me hope for our present trouble.
As soon as he rested his little face snuggly against my chest, stretching his arms across my pregnant belly, my baby kicked from within and I was reminded of the blessings that surround me but that sometimes get blurred in the midst of life’s struggles.
With a journal, I can look back on the years and see so clearly the blessings, some of which were not obvious at the time. I can see God’s hand at work in my heart and in the souls of my children, and how His beautiful plan for my family is woven throughout our story. And I can clearly see God’s grace in those early years.
My family loves to reminisce about times passed. My children will gather around and take in every word of the tales I tell of when they were younger, often asking questions or commenting on how they were similar or different from their siblings.
We laugh about silly times and inside jokes, sharing reminders of the origins of our family’s special “vocabulary” or unique traditions. Sometimes we talk about trials we have faced and how we endured.
Keeping journals for my children helps us to keep these stories alive. I can only imagine how their hearts will be stirred when I give their journals to them once they are grown!
I started a journal for my first son before he was born, but I sometimes wonder if I would have taken to journaling as I did if it weren’t for the emotional circumstances surrounding my first pregnancy.
As a young girl, I had stumbled across the journal my own mother kept for me, so writing to my son came naturally and became the perfect way for me to express all the emotions that came over me as a new mother.  
I am grateful that, as a young mother, I took the time to share my feelings, the joys as well as fear. I also wrote about special little moments from my son’s first days and first years, stories my mind may have forgotten with the passage of time.
I have continued the tradition of keeping journals for each of my children and treasure them more and more as time goes on.
Blessings and Benefits of a Keepsake Journal
From the moment we find out we are pregnant, our hearts overflow with anticipation of meeting our babies. We prepare our home for their arrival and we look forward to the years ahead in which we get to care for them, love them, guide them, and teach them.
A journal is a great way to record our special feelings. When our children are grown, they can look back and read about our anticipation for their arrival and the joy we felt throughout their childhood years.
A picture can say a thousand words, but a thousand words can reveal details and emotion that a picture alone cannot. Pictures and video can give us vivid imagery of moments in the past, capturing much emotion and feeling, but the written word goes deeper, telling a bigger story, deeper thoughts and feelings, and through words, we can stimulate more of the senses.
There are many moments we can’t capture in a picture alone. Like the first time my babies come up to me, wrap their little arms around me, and tell me they love me. It melts my heart each and every time.
Inside the Keepsake Journal
So, what does a keepsake journal look like?
A keepsake journal will look differently for every family. Each of us has a unique story to tell and the way we tell it will vary as much as we do.
You may wish to record milestones and stories of your children’s lives similar to a traditional baby book. Or you may weave in more of your own thoughts and feelings, writing to your children and sharing deeply from your heart. You may or may not share details of family struggles and how you endured. This is all up to you.
My journals are written to my children and include things like:
  • my feelings as a mother
  • my prayers for my children in general
  • specific prayers for heart training AND moments when I finally see this soul work revealed through actions
  • lessons I learn FROM my children
  • Scripture I cling to as a mother
  • milestones (not just first, but lasts)
  • unique traits, talents, and strengths I see emerging
  • silly quirks
  • “family vocabulary” and how the special words and terms we use got started
  • stories (humorous, joyful, sad)
Ideas for Starting a Keepsake Journal

Pray about what journaling might look like for your family. Would it be best to create one journal in which you write everyone’s story or would you like to create one for each child?

Choose a good-quality journal. Journals come in all shapes and sizes, from a simple ruled notebook to a high-end calfskin journal. You can purchase a basic leather journal for each child or more colorful ones unique to each child.
You could decorate them with fabric, paper, or embellishments. Whatever you choose, I think archival quality is best. Here is a selection of keepsake journals to browse to get you started. Depending on how often you write, one journal may be enough or you may need more than one.
One neat idea is to have one for their childhood years and then one for when they become young men and women. This varies for each child, but if we choose not to follow the ways of the world (i.e. expecting a relapse into immaturity during the “teen years”), we will find that our boys will become young men and our girls young ladies at the age the world expects them to regress.

As a mother, you might even continue journaling into the next stage, when they leave your home to start families of their own. I haven’t thought that far ahead, as I’m not near that season yet, but it sounds like it might be a blessing to all!  

Decide what point-of-view to write from. Will your journal simply be a place to reveal your heart and look back on later or will you share it with your child some day? I write to my children in their journals, mostly in the first person, but occasionally I might speak in the third person when it is appropriate. (I plan to give their journals to them when they begin families of their own. )
Decide how often you will write and make a plan for making it happen. With my first two children, I found it easy to sit down at nearly any given moment and write. Now, with five children (and our sixth on the way), this just doesn’t happen.
I have to be more strategic about taking the time to write. I don’t have a specific schedule for writing in each child’s journal, but I do have a time set aside each week that is dedicated to journal writing. Some weeks I will write in one journal, some three, maybe none!
I have a section in my home management notebook where I jot down quick reminders of stories or other things I want to write about and in which journal, and I refer to these reminders when I sit down to journal. Even though I usually can’t write things down as they happen like I could with my first two children, my memory is still fresh enough days later.

You might ask your husband or other children to write in the journal from time to time. I like to have my husband write from his heart at the birth of our children. I have yet to ask older siblings to do this, but I’ve been thinking about how special that would be and will probably do it in the future!
Enhance your journal with other keepsakes. Every now and then, add a photo, a lock of hair, or a sweet hand-written note from your child. While these mementos are often added to scrapbooks, they can also make a nice addition to a journal.
In addition to (or instead of) a journal, there are other ways to turn our family’s story into a family heirloom.

Birthday letters are a wonderful way to follow each child’s story as they grow through the years. Write a letter to each child on their birthday, sharing the milestones of the past year as well as your hopes and prayers for their future. Praise them for their strengths and tell them how they’ve been a blessing to the family. A “birthday letter” can be written within the keepsake journal, kept separate with each years’ letters, or added to a scrapbook in which photos and other mementos from that year are added.
A “family gratitude journal” is another neat idea for a family keepsake. I got this idea from my aunt and uncle, who’ve done this since their children were young. This is the first year I’ve done this with my family (although I had good intentions last year) and I look forward to continuing this tradition over the years. Each year at Thanksgiving time, each family member writes down what they are thankful for. Parents or older siblings write for the younger ones! It’s fun to hear what the younger ones are thankful for, as it can range from “trucks” to “God”. This will no doubt be a family treasure years down the road! This year, we made a “thanksgiving tree”, writing down what we were thankful for onto cut out leaves and hanging them with ribbon on branches in a vase. I saved the leaf cut outs and plan to add these to our gratitude journal.
A prayer journal is another special keepsake. I write my prayers for my children in their keepsake journals, but I’ve considered starting a family prayer journal or a prayer journal for each child. I’ve kept personal prayer journals for about 10 years now, and it has been such a blessing to me to look back and see the Lord’s hand at work in my life. I can clearly see answered prayers, blessings, and beauty from ashes as I look back at my prayers over the years.  
While journals in and of themselves are as temporary as the world we live in, the stories they hold and the blessings they reveal help to perpetuate our family legacy that is passed down through generations.
If you keep journals for your children, I’d love to hear about how you do it! And if you don’t journal, I hope I have encouraged you to think about starting this tradition.
About Courtney Dunkin

Courtney is a homeschooling mom to 5 children (and is expecting their 6th blessing in April). Courtney is reminded daily of God's amazing grace. She tries to not take one moment for granted and strives to live simply in order to follow Christ fully and experience joy abundantly.

Courtney writes at Simply Nurtured, where she shares her passion for laying a strong foundation for baby and sells products that help mothers to do so.

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Sarah C said...

I can't believe there are no comments...yet :-) This is a beautiful idea, and one I've thought about, but never carried out. I'm awed and inspired that you've done this with five children. My oldest is turning four so I will put into practice when you've suggested. As my third baby is seven months, she reminds me daily how much I've forgotten of my oldest when she was a baby. Thank you for your beautiful words.

becky@purposefulhomemaking.com said...

Thanks for being the first, Sarah. :) Courtney is an amazing mom and I'm glad she shared her ideas with us!

BottledBeauty said...

Great blog. I love this idea. I'm pinning it to remember all these great ideas! I try to pack stories & milestones into their baby books and I always run out of room. Think I will start a journal for each of my 2 children.

motivational speaker said...

You've got to have great and wonderful inspirations to do it. You were able to write the best journals of your life as a mother. I really admire you for doing that.

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