I remember my first journal, and I still have it. It was thin and covered with multicolored balloons. I wrote my name and date, January 19, 1997, inside the front cover with the title “My Prayer, Dairy, and Jounlel Book” on the first blank page. (Hey, I’d only turned seven a few months before, and C.S. Lewis had appalling spelling as a child, too. Just grab a copy of Boxen. In fact, read his letters as an adult.)
Over the years, I continued to keep a journal, and I also began to write. During one of my bouts with depression, my counselor at the time encouraged me to make full use of my God-given love for words and inclination to express my thoughts on paper. I was feeling ashamed for my negative emotions and struggles to the point it was even hard for me to write them in something as private as a journal. To see my thoughts and feelings on paper was too painful. It transferred them from the nebulous tangle of my mind to the concreteness of ink and paper. It made it seem too real to ignore, and I couldn’t face it.
My counselor reminded me of a scene from The Waltons, a show my family loves for its ability to capture the daily lives of a large, hardworking family composed of various loves, hates, gifts, and faults. The episode she referred to was the one in which Olivia, concerned that John Boy is constantly sequestering himself in his room, discovers he has been hiding a journal under his mattress. John Boy clearly has a love and gift with words, but he’s ashamed and afraid for anyone to know. Yet, just as a bird is meant to fly and a fish to swim, he must write, and this episode is quite pivotal in the development of John Boy’s character not only as a writer but as a boy becoming a wise and strong man.
People have repeatedly spoken of the power of words. Scripture talks about speaking words of life or death. The Hebrew notion of words was that they have being, that they are dynamic and each word has a life of its own, its own story, so to speak. Think of God speaking the world into being, the Word becoming flesh, that He is I AM. I’m reminded of a scene in the Tolkien film that captures the being and life of words as Tolkien and Edith discuss cellar door. (Whatever your opinion of the movie as a whole, I’d encourage you to at least find that scene and watch it.) When John Boy teaches his youngest sister Elizabeth to read and write, he describes words as magic. It may sound sentimental, but he was actually not as far as we might think from what my Advanced Grammar professor in undergrad said about the medieval connection between grammar and magic. In The Discarded Image C.S. Lewis provides a brief etymology that might help. In defining the Trivium, particularly grammar, he explains that the term referred to anything pertaining to language (particularly Latin) and literature as well as history. Here’s where it gets interesting. Lewis writes
Scholarship is perhaps our nearest equivalent. In popular usage Grammatica or Grammaria slid into the vague sense of learning in general; and since learning is usually an object both of respect and suspicion to the masses, grammar, in the form of grammary comes to mean magic….And from grammary, by a familiar sound-change, comes glamour—a word whose associations with grammar and even with magic have now been annihilated by the beauty-specialists.
So while hiding a journal or even being afraid to write in one may seem like an adolescent insecurity, it may actually reflect not only how much we value the innermost parts of our souls, but what we believe about words themselves.
I only remember destroying one journal, and it probably won’t surprise you that it was after a break-up. A few years ago I contemplated requesting that my journals be burned if anything happened to me because of some of the dark spiritual struggles on the pages. Not that I think the world is actually going to read the great thoughts of Chelsea Carrier, but I feared being misunderstood by and even causing pain to any who might read them.
However, an old friend, who doesn’t journal but her husband does, cautioned me, “But maybe one day you’ll have grand-kids, and they’ll get to read how God worked in the life of Grandma Chelsea.” (I’m hoping for a better name than that, but I kinda have to work on the husband and kids part first, so there’s plenty of time.)
When thinking through an issue or simply trying to trace God’s work in my life, I go back and read my journals the same as I do old letters and cards–and yes, I’ve kept those as far back as third grade. Scripture talks about remembering, and many times I’ve been encouraged by the faithfulness of friends, family, and God whether I’m intentionally searching or not.
For about nine months I’ve been dealing with a pretty painful situation, and I was looking back through my journal to see if it was really as consistently bad as I thought it was. After reading a series of prayers basically asking the Lord for help ranging from full understanding and know-how to fix said situation and changing my heart to begging for deliverance, I read the following entry, and the words that I had no strength to say then but desperately needed to hear now brought tears to my eyes. I post this with the hope that God will use it to heal and remind someone else of His faithfulness.
February 23rd, 2020
Thank you for your obedience and glory in our place. Thank you for being faithful in so many ways—all the ways I can’t. Thank you for searching me and knowing me, for not playing mind games, that when others misunderstand, judge, or write me off, that You, though You actually have full reason and right to judge and discard me, You don’t. You fight for, die for, resurrect for, and accept me and live through me. Thank You for being my safe place. I want to be so strong and powerful and useful—and I’m so fragile and exhausted and floundering much of the time. I need you desperately.
Footnotes and Sources
 My family often calls me John Boy, not just because we’re both writers and the eldest in a large family, but because we have very similar temperaments. Especially when we feel very passionately about something. (For the record, my mom also thinks I’m remarkably like Anne Shirley and at times Jo March while my dad and brothers have dubbed me “Banner.”)
 Ken Myers and Scott Cairns, “On How the Writing of Poetry Requires Attentiveness to the Life of Words,” Mars Hill Journal, vol. 87, podcast, MP3 audio, 13:50, https://marshillaudio.org/catalog/volume-87
 C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 187.
 Socrates said that the philosopher is always thinking about death. Therefore, I am a part-time philosopher. He also talked about the philosophical nature of dogs, and engaged in a tangent on why some people have more problems with gas, so we might need to be careful…