Saturday, January 30, 2021

Mini Memoir Moment: Looking back—How You Changed Along the Way from There to Here

Edie here. I absolutely adored Marcia's first book and now she has a second that just debuted! Going South: with the God of Jacob's and My Mistakes is a book you're not going to want to miss. I inserted more info at the end of the post. Be sure to congratulate Marcia!

by Marcia Moston @MarciaMoston

The interest in any story, yours included, is not so much what you did, but what you made of it—what you learned, how you changed. That’s not to say if you walked across that bridge in the photo, you wouldn’t have a story to tell. But more than just the fact that you did it, how did you do it? What did you experience when you first saw it? Why did you decide to tackle it? If your feet bolted to the boards halfway across, how did you manage to make it the whole way? How did you feel after you accomplished it? Did it change you in any way?

These are the kinds of considerations that make your personal story become your readers’. We all may not have crossed a chasm on a swaying bridge, but we all have faced a challenge, maybe a fearful one. Reading about how someone else dealt with a situation helps us to absorb his or her experience and apply it to our own. So it’s not “just the facts, ma’am” you want to record when writing your story, but why those moments are important to you. Not only will your reader benefit, but you will too. 

When she was arrested for her former involvement with drug traffickers, Piper Kerman, a Smith graduate from a supportive, well-to-do family traded her designer clothes and comfortable lifestyle for a prison jump suit and fifteen months behind bars. In her memoir, Orange is the New Black, Kerman shares the lessons she learned during her incarceration and how that experience changed her. Including this reflection provides readers with both an intriguing story and insight into the complexities and dynamics of a world most would not ordinarily experience. (*The book is not at all like the TV series, by the way.) Here’s a sample passage:

However, most of all, I realized that I was not alone in the world because of the women I lived with for over a year . . . .We shared over-crowded dorms and lack of privacy. We shared eight numbers instead of names, prison khakis, cheap food and hygiene items. Most important, we shared a deep reserve of humor, creativity in adverse circumstances, and the will to protect and maintain our own humanity. . . I don’t think any of us could have managed those survival techniques alone; I know I couldn’t—we needed each other.

Before and After
There’s wisdom in the rear-view mirror. Looking back and examining the pivotal experiences and events—both in our control and out of it—which have impacted our life, helps us to understand our present. As Danish philosopher Kierkegaard says, “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” Or, if you prefer John Wayne’s take – “Tomorrow hopes we’ve learned something today.”

Try organizing some of those pivotal moments into pairs of themes. That’s how Bob Goff arranges the stories in his book Love Does. Each chapter is a self-contained story from his outrageously large life. He subtitles each chapter with variations of before and after, following a I used to . . . but now I . . . pattern:

I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.

I used to want to fix people, but now I just want to be with them.

I used to think I had to act a certain way to follow God, but now I know God doesn’t want us to be typical.

Times of Reversals
Looking back over our lives also helps to see how we got through times of reversal, when something difficult or downright awful later turned out good. This is a particularly helpful exercise for those who want to pursue their spiritual journey. You might discover recurrent themes in your life. What helped you get through trying times—people, prayer, divine intervention, gut and grit? 

Good Friday is a perfect example of reversal for those of the Christian faith. The day Christ died on a cross was a dismal day for those who hoped in him. All their expectations and hopes hung there, lifeless, about to be buried like any other man’s. Little did the people know that in three days the most life-changing, glorious event was about to take place and what looked like death was actually life.

Regardless of your faith or whether or not you want to embark on a spiritual autobiography, you can learn much by noting these times of reversals in your life and examining how you overcame them.

Your Turn:

1. Model Bob Goff’s pattern to write about a change in your thinking, beliefs, wants, or actions. Explain what happened and why and how you changed.

I used to (believe, think, want, like, etc.) but now I ________________.

2. Make a timeline of your life. Divide it into periods of time—decades, or childhood, adolescence, etc. Mark some of the turning points, pivotal moments, or life changing events in each period. Write about the event and explore what you lost and what you gained from it.

3. If you could choose one event, experience or specific time of your life to write about, what would it be? Why is it important to you? What would you want your reader to know, experience, feel, learn or take away from it?



Going South: with the God of Jacob's and My Mistakes
by Marcia Moston
From the author of Call of a Coward—the God of Moses and the Middle-Class Housewife, comes another inspirational, Christian-living memoir. 

When Bob and Marcia Moston told their friends they were moving south, they meant it as a geographical move. They didn’t expect their plans to go south too.

Trusting his wife’s previously sound judgment, Bob agrees to have Marcia go ahead of him and pick out a house—an efficient, low-maintenance one. It was a good plan. If only Marcia had stuck to it.

But when she veers from the plan, the couple find themselves overwhelmed with the consequences of a seemingly bad decision. Marcia looks for encouragement in the story of Jacob—the patriarchal bad boy, remembered more for the predicaments he got himself into than for his commendable deeds—and the God who is not deterred by our plots, plans, stratagems, and side trips.

Written with heart, humor, and biblical insight, Going South—with the God of Jacob’s and My Mistakes offers hope and encouragement to those who find their lives upturned by a geographical move, a chaotic economy, a backfired dream, or just a plain bad choice.

Marcia Moston loves to write, teach, and talk about the possibilities of an ordinary life in the hands of an extraordinary God. She has contributed to several magazines, anthologies, and newspapers, and teaches narrative nonfiction with the OLLI at Furman program. She’s the author of Call of a Coward—the God of Moses and the Middle-Class Housewife and Going South –with the God of Jacob’s and My Mistakes.


  1. Marcia, this post is full of so much wise instruction and practical strategies. I am bookmarking this post. Your books sound delightful!

  2. Marcia, Thank you for this thought provoking post and writing prompts. Looking forward to your books.

  3. You're welcome Lisa. Hope you get something useful from it.

  4. I needed this today. My husband and I have recently moved to Georgia from Texas. I'm struggling with the move. My kids and grandkids are still in Texas. I feel like I don't have a purpose anymore. I have ordered both books and I'm looking forward to more of your wisdom and encouragment.

  5. Marcia, you've provided great information for writing a memoir--whether for publication or for family. Your book GOING SOUTH had me chuckling at your adventures, but each chapter also pulled me closer to God.