Open a Lifetime Gift: Can a Childhood Diary Change You?

I was only 8 years old. I didn’t know the gift I was about to receive would last a lifetime.

On Wednesday, November 25, 1970, along with a hand-cranked Frosty Sno-Man Sno-Cone Machine, a dress, and a necklace, I also received a cloth-bound Five Year Diary, secured by a lock and key.

My first diary entry:

“Today is Wednesday. It is my Birthday too,”

. . . followed by a list of things I received.

I have no memory of that day. But I remember lots of other days spent writing in my diary. Sporadically the first few years. Short. Simple. Many of the entries were nothing more than:

“Today is Monday. I take piano lessons on Monday. Nothing specil (sic) has happened today.”

But by my high school years, the entries got longer and more passionate. The tiny lines weren’t enough to hold my questions and thoughts about boys and church and school (and again, boys), so I often wrote or typed on my own paper using our trusty manual typewriter, and stuck the pages in the back of the diary.

The 5-year diary extended into 8 years. The final entry I wrote was on Friday, August 25, 1978, when I was 15 years old.

“I broke up with my boyfriend at school but we got back together. I’m glad. We had our first football game.”

I didn’t know it then, but this exercise of putting thoughts into words would prove useful throughout my entire life.

Even now, when I feel overwhelmed, confused, or sad, I write it all down to make life clear again.

I still have the diary today, although the lock is busted and the key has been missing for decades. I treasure my first diary—the misspelled words, the faint penciled print, the memories of times long since forgotten—and the younger, tender, naive me that wrote in it.

But what I treasure just as much is the writing habit it taught me.

The joy of writing has truly been a life-enhancing gift.

Did you keep a diary as a child? Do you enjoy writing now? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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12 thoughts on “Open a Lifetime Gift: Can a Childhood Diary Change You?

  1. Martha J Orlando

    I never had a diary as a child, Lisa, but that didn’t stop my love of the written word and for reading words of others. Thanks so much for sharing here what your diary has meant to you over the years.

  2. Pam

    Oh, what a sweet post. How wonderful that you kept your diary for 8 years! I didn’t really keep a diary when I was very young, but I have 2 spiral notebooks full of my days when I was in 9th and 10th grade. For some reason, I needed to write down everything during that time. Those notebooks are priceless to me now! I love to journal now and express my emotions in that way. Stopping by from Esme Salon.

  3. Barbara Harper

    I don’t remember having a specific diary growing up. But in high school I journaled in spiral notebooks. I threw them away (I remember writing about boys a lot, too. 🙂 ) I’m sorry I did now: it would be interesting to look at what I thought back then. That was also the year or two before my parents divorced, so I imagine I did a lot of processing.

    On the other hand, reading Elisabeth Elliot’s biographies published in the last few years, I’ve thought maybe it’s a good thing my old journals are long gone. 🙂 Not that I will ever reach EE’s status or have to worry about people publishing my journals. But I doubt she wanted to have reprinted for all the world to see who she had a crush on in high school and what she argued with her mother about. It was an encouragement to see she was “normal” teen, that it took decades to grow into the wisdom she had as an older woman, and that’s probably what the author meant in including her early journal entries. Still–maybe she should have marked for her family which parts were meant to be kept private.

  4. Lynn D. Morrissey

    Love this, Lisa. Yes! I had a small, red, one-year diary with lock and key, given to me by my journal-keeping mother one Christmas. I have it *somewhere*. I don’t think I filled it out very far, but I know it affected me. In high school, my journaling was really letter-writing to girlfriends where we’d express our angst, dreams, boys, boys, boys (all that intrigue), and other thoughts. These were not just little notes you’d pass behind teachers’ backs (though we did that too), but heart-to-heart teenage sharing. You’d think we never talked between classes or on the phone and would have long since run out of things to say! Not! But your post prompts me to remember them and how that really *was* our mutual journal-keeping (and as an aside, it’s fun to pass a diary among friends, and you respond to the person who wrote before you). But during a crisis situation at work when I was in my early thirties, I journaled in earnest. I’d unbosom my soul on lined pages in my Dayrunner at lunch away from the office, and before I knew it, I was addressing my angst to God Himself. It was the beginning of what I came to call my “love letters to God” (also the name of the book I wrote about prayer-journaling). I have journals, (8 1/2 x 11) artist sketch books, that literally tower over my 5’4 frame when stacked, like the leaning tower of journals! After vertigo (constantly, almost 4 years now), I have really neglected journaling b/c it causes me to be even dizzier, looking down to write. But I will tell you that I am suffering spiritually because of it. I just have to do it, dizzy or not! Thank you for your inspiration. It’s a transformational journey to record one’s life. This is my personal quote: “A life worth living is worth recording” (by Lynn D. Morrissey). I think that that is really true, and the benefits of journaling are endless. you should write a post on that!

    Love you and all you write!

  5. Lynn

    Sweet memories! I remember my first diary in mid-grade school, and I did write in it almost daily. Many moves later, I don’t have it anymore, but I still see the blue lines and neat, tiny printing. Writing shapes us, even when we don’t keep what we wrote, I believe!

  6. Lynn D. Morrissey

    Oh I see it now. Once I posted today’s short sentence, suddenly the other appeared. Who knows?! Not I for sure! 🙂

  7. Jean Wise

    so cool you have your childhood diary. wish I still had mine. I do have one I started when pregnant with my first child, only a few entries but so insightful to read and listen once again to that young women. Three kids later is when I started the regular practice of journal writing = a wonderful practice.

  8. Steph@Crazylittlelovebirds

    Keeping a diary is a wonderful thing. It allows you to reflect on your life and see how far you have come. I kept three diaries, one during my teenage years and the other two during my pregnancies with my daughters. These two diaries are incredibly special to me, and I plan on gifting them to my daughters when they are older. I hope that when they read my words, they will know just how much they were loved, even before they were born. Lisa, thank you for sharing this post at The Crazy Little Lovebirds link party #35.

  9. Aritha


    How fun and special to read, Lisa. I was a diary girl myself. Currently, I’m writing my memoir about my childhood in an orthodox Christian church community, and a lot of it comes from the memories in my diary. Sometimes I cry, sometimes I laugh. I love that you were also a diary girl.

  10. Aritha


    How fun and special to read, Lisa. I was a diary girl myself. Currently, I’m writing my memoir about my childhood in an orthodox Christian church community, and a lot of it comes from the memories in my diary. Sometimes I cry, sometimes I laugh. I love that you were also a diary girl.

    Lots of Love,

  11. Paula

    Lisa, I love this! What a tenderhearted post. I didn’t keep a diary as a youngster but I did go through several journals through highschool and young adulthood.
    Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful article with Sweet Tea & Friends this month dear friend.

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