All posts by Jennie L

About Jennie L

(Prose Board) is from Salt Lake. Teaching high school English has taught her many things, including how to sing the parts of speech, and break up hall fights, but perhaps most important, spending her days with words and writing continually reinforces their power. Give her a beach, some dark chocolate, friends and family and she'll be one happy girl.

And Yet

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I had a clenched jaw smile moment at work the other day. I stood next to a coworker and tried to make friendly conversation. Like a good game of tennis, we volleyed questions back and forth covering the usual points of work and weather, then the game amped up to family life. I learned she had two kids, and had the first unexpectedly in her late teens. She then asked me how many kids I had. As a single adult, I have had a decent amount of practice with this question. I usually say something like, “oh, I don’t have any kids.” And so, I did, to which she said, “did you just decide you didn’t want any?”

Now I realize this may seem like a fine or benign response, but it bugged me. I was not mad at her; I didn’t think her rude, just – maybe unaware? Her statement held finality in my mind. It implied that my story in the having kids department had somehow ended without me knowing. That here I was waiting for my page to turn and people already knew my ending.

I used to tack on yet at the end of the sentence, but I lost that word somewhere along my way. And the truth is, I still could have kids. I’m not in my 20s, my window is closing, I’d be an “old” mom by Utah standards having kids in my mid to late 30s, but gosh dangit, I’m going to say yet. As much as I tell myself I’m not fazed, I am fine in my situation, that my life will be full if never becomes a reality, and that I have a perfect brightness of hope, it bothers me.

I think I, we, the single, the motherless, really anyone who feels like they may have to bury or surrender any kind of righteous desire has muddied emotions of faith, anger, and apathy. But the last thing we want to feel from someone is pity. And in that moment, it wasn’t my coworker who pitied me, but I who pitied a part of my own story – and that made me cringe.

As a teacher, our department had a rule: don’t accept “I don’t know”, or “I can’t”, or “I’m not good” statements without prompting the student to say yet at the end of the sentence. That one little word can change the story and narrative completely. You see, yet is a very important word that holds layers of the unknown and faith. That one little word can change a narrative or add wonder to someone gazing into any trial. It’s a phrase that almost demands some reliance and a good old ‘to be continued.’ So the next time you’re tempted to end your situation with finality, add a yet or an and yet, and leave it at that and just see what happens.

How does language affect your faith?

Things that Grow Underground

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 12.28.15 PMIt’s that time of year. Goals are made, diets started, enthusiasms sparked, and there’s not a treadmill in sight available at the gym. And then January 13th hits and it unravels. Or maybe I’m the only one familiar with this pattern, but somehow I doubt it.

I’ve had years where I was serious about my goals. They were typed, put in categories, and really looked after.  I planted things those years. Studied, started new habits, and in short, just really showed up to life for the most part.

Not this last year.  I didn’t have a list of goals, but… I did start noticing themes in my world in 2015.  Looking back, I would say they were small whispers and still movement in a direction.

I fell in love with a short quote sometime last year. It was from Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, and the line was, “I am rooted, but I flow.” The square piece of paper sat on my nightstand for the better part of the year, and this was the theme I noticed myself centering around. Not numbered lists or miles ran, but just an idea and thought in the form of someone’s words. I found myself thinking of those lines, and rooting them inside. I noticed I did more yoga. I made more effort to think of my life as continual. I had imagery of roots and water in my days at times.

So I started to wonder the last few weeks, what if we choose feelings over tasks in the new year – or what if I choose a quote or idea for the year instead of numbered lists?  Don’t get me wrong, I am a list girl and see the value in goals, but choosing the content instead of a pretty frame (or list of goals) seems to breed something more.

I started seeing words and ideas I was drawn to that lead me to my chosen theme this year: THINGS THAT GROW UNDERGROUND.

My approach this year is being settled and patient.  I don’t want measurements and outcomes, but need to plant for the harvest I’ve used up. And what that will entail and how this will direct my focus, and make my heart change is yet to be known.  But here’s what I do know. The following quotes resonated and the Spirit washed over as I came across the following quotations and talk, and it is as simple and complex as that.

“And don’t think the garden loses its ecstasy in winter. It’s quiet, but the roots are down there riotous.” -Rumi

“The winter solstice is a time to look at seeds you’ve planted in the previous winter that have come up in the summer.  For this winter solstice, look at those seeds. which ones have you harvested that you want to replant, and which ones do you want to grind up and use as compost?”  -Ana Forrest as told by Sarah Britton here

This talk: For Whatsoever a Man Soweth, That Shall He Also Reap” –L.Tom Perry

So here are my 2016 words as I send you on your way to yours. Happy New Year.

Messy Perfect Questions

“There are times when the only way to get from A to C is by way of B.” Jeffrey R Holland, Wrong Way

Sometime last year a 16-year-old student asked, “how do I make myself do what I don’t want to do, or how do I even know what the heck I want or should be doing!” I stood in front of the room and the class laughed because everyone knew this kid was the funny guy in class. At the time grades were falling, assignments were missing, and I think we were all breathing a general attitude of apathy. I had tried to hide what I knew may come across as the same old motivational pep-talk with tips and research.

The sarcastic question hung in the air for a bit because a question that is one of THE questions of life and cuts to the heart of the issue shoots motivational rhetoric off its high horse.

I knew underneath the laughter, these questions bounced back and forth between their minds and hearts. I knew at this time in their lives they wanted answers to these questions NOW.

This memory came to mind as I was listening to a podcast called “Big Strong Magic” addressing some of these very questions. See, I have had many a discussion about the gifts of failure and finding your path with students. But I viewed this conversation in pride. I thought it was okay for teenagers to fail and find their way and not have their perfect course laid out in front of them, but I didn’t want to have to traverse that course myself. I had already done so and wanted in some way to be exempt.

I recently stepped off a secure path, or my A, and expected more direct guidance than I’m currently receiving. I suppose I wanted to find the perfect way. I’ve had to rethink this word. I now feel like what Christ means by perfect (like “be ye therefore perfect”), is not to be flawless, but whole. And after reading Brene Brown and Catherine’s interpretation of her research, I would even change the word whole to whole-hearted.

I didn’t want to have to find my C by way of B. I wanted to leap out of A’s box and be directed to C. But guess what, I’m on a B path. And it may not be direct, but I have to believe that I’ll find the life and divinity in it. So I would say to that student, and to all of us, that the the space between your questions of what to do and finding the answer may be messy and trying.

In that same podcast, Brene Brown and Elizabeth Gilbert go on to say that the only thing that gets you back to work on day 2 is if you forgive yourself for how bad your work was on day 1. Day 2 doesn’t stop because of will power or weakness, it stops because of shame, and the antidote to shame is not discipline but empathy. I feel like Christ is the master of this concept. If we were kinder to ourselves and more patient I can’t help but wonder what could change in our lives.

So here’s what I’m living and believe Christ wants us to acknowledge: traversing mountains and going back and forth in messy paths creates a life of wholeness. The glory in C perhaps is only because of the messy middle of B. Side-lines and wrong ways can allow you to stop and see people from a new angle and view. So it’s the middle part, the B part, the doing part that produces something. While I have no magic answer to get me or anyone else to do what you don’t want to do, or know which way to go, I do believe that the exploration is in some way part of the plan.

Where and how do you find and notice God’s and guidance in messy middles? How do think gratitude can be a tool of peace in such times?

What’s Going on Back There

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Most days are just days.

I thought of these words as I darted out of work, late to my book group that evening.  I heard them in a talk or conversation chattering from my iPhone earlier that week, and for some reason amidst all the other words and songs I heard, they stuck. As I clip-clopped my way down the sidewalk I wondered if that saying or observation was meant to be comforting or just glumly realistic.

See, Latter-day Saints share a common language and belief about meaning and purpose. It’s like the back of a rug or tapestry. Life looks like the back – a lot of messy strings and threads, but on the other side, a distinct pattern of color and value is revealed in a perfect combination of art and function. To many this narrative gives hope. But to others the seemingly meaningless heartaches, tragedies, or lack-luster days remain a mess of color and strings – the picture yet to be seen. I continued to my car, looked up the address of where I was to meet my book group and drove.

We were meeting downtown, and I was supposed to park on South Temple. Unable to find a parking spot I huffed, turned left, and drove up a street to pull over. As I prepared to back up and flip around, I checked for cars in the side-mirror. My breath caught, and I froze as the glowing Salt Lake Temple stared at me through my mirror. I let the meaning of this moment wash over me. I chose to stop for a few breaths and be still. A bit distant from those soft deep conversations, I let the Spirit in, and thought – you’re looking and asking for things right to the side and behind you. Literally in your rear view mirror! Just turn around and look.

In the perpetual hustle of days, the story I was telling myself and choosing to believe was one of flatness. If my heart asked for tender mercies and great things to be brought to pass, I felt that moment remind me that sometimes we have to slow our days down and try to find seeds of meaning to receive and get a glimpse of the potential picture we are breezing past and not even noticing.

After I got home that night I watched the end of a movie. The girl in the movie commented on what a beautiful night it was. The man next to her asked what that even meant. After thinking, she looked over at him and said that it meant it was completely comfortable, but that there’s also something deeply moving about it. I liked that. I felt that way about the temple and had felt that way about my day-to-day life at one time too. Seeking beauty in our days doesn’t mean big huge picture perfect moments, but trying to find beauty and purpose in the small and simple scenic mess of our day-to-day lives.

As mathematician Georg Cantor famously said, “my beautiful proof lies all in ruins,” and so too do most of our days.

How to do you find God, meaning, and small moments of joy in your day to day lives?

Show Me a Sign

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I was 25 when I went to the temple to receive my endowment.  It was my first year of teaching, my first year of love and heartbreak, and my first year of walking to greater light.  When deciding to go through the temple, my bishop said to pay attention to how I felt.  To not  worry if I didn’t understand exactly why everything is done or what it means right now, but to pay attention what the Spirit witnesses to me.

I went through and I (to my current amazement) went for a session every week for a year.  It was solace from a hard work life and soothed my broken heart.  But I also sought signs.  In the little pockets of my heart I wanted direct answers in a timely way. I wanted them to be sure and obvious and thought that’s what greater light was all about.  As I went through sessions I didn’t get other references to signs or how they were connected to doctrine. I tried to remember my bishop’s words and enjoy the feeling of the Spirit, and from time to time did and still do receive soft waves of the Spirit that wash me with new knowledge.

One such wave came in Sunday School last week– we were discussing how to behave on the Sabbath and during the Sacrament.  I had a feeling some hearts would sink and eyes would roll as people shared comments and implied perfection. The air got a little sticky for me.  Tangled emotions didn’t quite reconcile with words being spoken, but then a woman spoke up and explained how we give what we can when we can and we can’t compare our mite to someone’s generous offering.

Our bishop jumped in and said, “a sign is our outward expression of the covenant and promise we make to our God.” He spoke slowly, almost melodically, emphasized the word our, and repeated the phrase again.  “A sign is our outward expression of the covenant and promise we make to our God.”

He went on to explain that our personal signs are for us to decide and sometimes we can give generously and other times we only have a widow’s mite worth of will, faith, charity, but whether it’s the mite or a huge sum, the sacrifice is great if the intent is our own worship.

This was a new definition and understanding of a sign. To think of our own spiritual currency and expression of worship to be personally and uniquely offered felt expansive. I felt a greater spirit of love and acceptance in the room.  As I thought about this idea, I also remembered the foundational truth of teaching correct principles, then letting one another govern themselves. I looked around the room and knew people came to church in different places and mind frames, and our job is to love and learn and be kind.

To think of a sign as our personal act and expression of devotion made whole and enough by His grace lifted our ward and my heart.