How would you like to read your great-great grandmother’s journal about her immigration to America? What about your father’s love letters to your mother from the trenches of the battlefield? Would you cherish the private diaries your grandmother kept next to her bed, where she wrote down the details of her life?
Family history. I would relish reading the archives of my family’s history, but very few of my family members left any written record of our family stories and history. And I have no way of identifying the people, places, or events in some of our old family photos. I only know what I read on their gravestones, their names, birth and death dates, and a few epitaphs.
Epitaphs. When my husband Dan and I were dating, we visited the local cemetery and read the tombstones with a flashlight. That seems like an odd thing for a couple to do on a date, but we lived in a small, southern town, and there were not many activities available. But the local cemeteries provided some interesting discussion points at times.
I remember my reaction to one particular epitaph in Resthaven Cemetery in Silsbee, Texas. As I looked at the ceramic photo of the deceased on the headstone and read his words, I imagined that person standing there, reading his own epitaph.
Beware kind friend as you pass by;
Where you are now, so once was I.
Where I am now, you soon shall be.
Prepare for death and follow me.
Encouraging words. I’ve thought of this inscription several times in the past few years. I referred to it when lecturing college freshmen, just beginning their academic journeys. Later, I shared this quote, as I led a group of new teachers. And now, I share it with you to encourage you to tell your stories, especially your faith stories.
Legacy. Part of mother’s legacy was a collection of poems that she wrote. And I’m so grateful that my mother wrote down some of her thoughts. When I read her words for the first time, I discovered a voice that I’d never heard.
My mother wrote her own epitaph, although she didn’t know it at the time she penned it. We engraved an excerpt from one of her poems on her headstone.
Happiness, joy, God’s promise I find.
My search has now ended;
salvation is mine.
(Nelle Allen Barnes Baize, 2001)
Do you believe in the power of story?
Karen Jordan writes creative nonfiction about her faith, family, and writing. She also encourages others to “tell the stories that matter most” in her writing workshops, her blog, BLESSED Legacy Stories and her website (www.karenjordan.net).