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.

Inside Out

Outside looking in:

That first night my nose and cheek pressed against the cold block wall. I turned over and back and over again. The cinderblocks were bright white and surprisingly clean. As I shifted on my squeaky twin bed I felt a lump in my throat. I was sharing a room for the first time in my life. With a stranger. Not only did I choose to do so willingly, but I actually paid for this. I believe my exact thoughts were, why did I come here?

I was a nervous freshman at BYU who felt so different than the people walking around campus. A fraud. My internal dialogue gossiped inside my own head. I thought who am I?….I didn’t pray with my family, and I’d never even read the Book of Mormon straight through. And plus, my idea of fun was not cramming together in a tunnel to sing hymns. Nerds. I felt restless.

An Inner Calm:

That first week I walked into my Book of Mormon class. The teacher was tall with broad shoulders. He wore a suit that actually fit and his shirt was crisp and white. He smiled, locked eyes with every student and shook each hand. Double handed style. I remember thinking, I like this guy.

What that class and teacher did for me is too overwhelming to simply say in words. But that is exactly where the enlightenment came – words.

One of the first things we did was memorize part of a talk by Ezra Taft Benson“The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ would take the slums out of the people, and then they would take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.”

The teacher said he wanted to work from the inside out that semester. He was laying the groundwork and practicing what he preached. Little by little, the internal message cracked my heart open. The authenticity of this message and the teacher’s vision lead to different words running through my heart and mind about where I belonged and what I believed.

He challenged us to read every day. To write every day. To ponder every day. To be still every day. And to do it imperfectly. To just try. To change our habits. These ideas were my bricks. Foundations. Necessary and sure. Concrete and true. An intent only working from the inside out could create.

My religion changed in this class to an uplifting hope instead of a damning fear.

These words became a mantra of sorts. The phrase from the outside in would echo in my head during walks to class, or when I felt like a small unnoticeable dot in the sea of Cougars.

I had fought and still fight against working from the outside in. The enticement of profiles and of trying to be and look and project and do and open and seem causes narcissistic fits of disappointment.

I have come back to this quote time and time again, and it is usually in those very fits of disappointment where I have lost my center of gravity. Where the words, and His words have become mere acquaintances instead of kindred friends.

The twisting and turning and coming head to head with brick walls and self-doubts originates from looking at things from the outside in. From counterfeits and false intents. But it is all so easy and alluring.

But what happens on the inside eventually manifests on the outside. The light. Or the dark. When your insides turn on you, look in look in look in. Look into His words. Look into your purpose. Look into your questions. Look into your self. Frankly this is the only way I’ve found peace in the windy outside that blows opinions, heartbreak, and fear.

So when you feel like you’re in that slum, look in.

What does looking in mean to you?  How does one work from the outside in?  What keeps that inner calm and focus when all around us we receive messages seeping into our inner thoughts?

Interesting Stuff

I have always been pretty quiet. The child who observed. I watched. I listened. I day-dreamed. I aimed to please. Oh the pleasing. I have moments and memories full of details down to the white Keds my babysitter always wore, the time my grandma braided my hair on the deck and started over at least a dozen times while talking about the trees, and the neighbors who never turned their lights off, and of course there’s that one time I wore a black waffle mock turtleneck in 9th grade that I thought looked great, only to have John-What’s-His-Name ask if I borrowed my brother’s shirt. Turned out this John kid was way more right than I cared to acknowledge.

These memories live only in my head.  And they don’t resurface until prodded – like when I am writing a blog post that needs details about observations.

How many moments must be settled far beneath the surface- long forgotten?

For someone who didn’t feel the need to explain, narrate, or even open her mouth much, it’s a little bit funny how much I’ve depended on words in my life.

I recently read a story that has stayed with me. In fact it has been resting in-between my heart and head, the place where the meaning and gravity of something hasn’t quite the strength yet to be born in voice.  But it’s there, and you know it has struck you for a reason.

Marina Keegan, was a young writer who died five days after graduating from Yale.  She was an observer and lover of words, and is acclaimed for her literary talent and “uncanny wisdom”.  One particular detail is what has been resting inside of me.  Professor Anne Fadiman shared a portion of Keegan’s application for admittance to her class:

“About three years ago, I started a list. It began in a marbled notebook but has since evolved inside the walls of my word processor. Interesting stuff. That’s what I call it. I’ll admit it’s become a bit of an addiction. I add to it in class, in the library, before bed, and on trains. It has everything from descriptions of a waiter’s hand gestures, to my cab driver’s eyes, to strange things that happen to me or a way to phrase something. I have 32 single-spaced pages of interesting stuff in my life.”

I would love to read those 32 single-spaced pages. These are reportedly the basis for Keegan’s published essays. And I love that she found writing down the details important enough, meaningful enough, and interesting enough to document.

The thing is, I think words get lost in the mire and mud of life and that is why we don’t write. At least that’s why I think I don’t.

Monotony is a thief.

It steals the tender mercies and moments of gratitude out of overwhelming schedules, to-do lists, and straight up boring tasks. It also gets in your head and asks, who the heck wants to hear about my day?  Well maybe no one cares about your status update on how great your burrito was, but somewhere in the cloudy land of social media and reality, details matter.  Thoughts matter. Candid observations matter.  A thought you’ve had the last few weeks matter.  And while people may not care to read them, you might one day.  And, they just might care. It just might matter to them too.

I have a slew of random notes here and there but I’m not consistent or organized. I shrug off the value in the little tiny moments of day to day. I need to remember to make it simple.  It doesn’t have to be a grand scrapbook or long composition. Line by line.  Here are a few ideas to help see and record the “interesting stuff”:

-         I love the journal app Day One. When you’re on the run you can snap a picture, type a few lines, and it tracks the day and time and will create an end of year time line for you.

dayone

-         Create a private Instagram feed just for you.  When you upload a picture, write your thoughts and comments surrounding the moment.  Many companies are now creating simple beautiful books of your Instagram pictures and comments below you can print off when ready.

insta

-         Kick it old school and always keep a notebook handy. Keep it in your purse, in your car.  Write when the moment strikes you, or else it will fade. Plus, handwriting is great. On that note, if you love to be digital, but miss good old fashioned doodles and handwriting, take a look at Mod, an awesome app to merge the two.

-         -And let us not forget blogs.  A place perhaps to digest the above and combine.

Here’s to writing down the moments, random though they may be, to find truth, to clarify, to reflect, to remember, to find yourself, to find God, to take back Monotony’s lies of insignificance.

What do you do to record and give voice to the little things in life?

Imperfect Goodness

Imperfections

I will never name a child Dario.

The name reminds me of perfection, frustration, and lost hope. Dario was a desperate boy who is forever 14 years old to me.

He seemed small for his age.  His face was cute and still resembled the features of a little boy. He was clean and parted his hair, but made sure it had the flip in the front. No scruff, no piercings. His physical appearance didn’t match his clothes.

I remember looking at him one day and thinking, “I bet his baby pictures were the kind people would stare at and ooh and goo over because of his perfectly shaped nose and big bright eyes”.

“I bet they would have no idea that he’d turn into a devil child,” was my next thought.

Dario and I both walked into room 21 as 8th grade virgins. He having never been to 8th  grade, and I having never taught it. I would soon hear his lack of real virginity being discussed over a rousing session of vocabulary.

The first day of class Dario slurped into his chair.  A talent and ability only students with the finest prowess and hatred for school can possess. His uniform, a red sports jersey with the number 5 on the front drowned his scrawny chest.  The denim shorts, if you could call them that, sagged well below his tiny bum and were belted, from what I could discern, mid-crack. I rarely saw him in anything else, but the outfit was always clean ironed.

That first day of class I knew I had to be strict and firm.  The agenda was ready, a get to know you game planned, and a silent prayer laid out on the desk before me.

“Hello class” I began and faked my way through experience and confidence.

I recognized myself in students, the shy eager girls ready to please, but lost my bearings with emo kids in black with safety pinned pants, and pierced faces.

“Get a grip” I told myself.  You loved your high school students during student teaching.  The roughest kids turned out to be great.

Mid-way through the never ending 47 minute period Dario was poking his neighbor with a newly sharpened pencil.

“Ouch” shouted the kid next to him.

“We’ll wait” I said like a robot. “Dario, what’s the problem?”

Idealistic- teacher -code –of- conduct -rule #1: never isolate and call out a kid in front of the class.  Student:  1 Teacher:  0.

“This is why I didn’t go into elementary school teaching” I thought.  “What. Is. Going. On.”

“Nothing.  I didn’t do anything he …..” Dario rambled on defensively.

Cutting him off mid-sentence, “ok, ok, stop, we’re moving on”.  “So, guys,” I continued, “two truths and lie,” I know you all have exciting stories to share”.

Hearing the sugar in my own voice wanted to make me puke.  Or was it the thought running through my head, “is this what I signed up for? I’m stuck help help help 30 years!”

I repeated a mantra a college professor had told us to remember in times like this. Our professor in a room full of eager fulfilled college students just sure they were the answer to change classrooms of America, or , at least, Salt Lake:  “misbehavior is a manifestation of an unfulfilled need…misbehavior is a manifestation of an unfulfilled need…”

Dario’s body continuously slid down his chair minute by minute until the front of the desk and his collar bone touched.

The bell rang.

Dario raced out crumbling his disclosure and other papers in the trash before exiting.

“I’m a freaking actor” I signed up to be an actor” I kept thinking over and over.  “Put on your game face and rinse and repeat.  The next batch is filing in.

I never understood why some teachers I encountered during school and student teaching were so negative. I always wondered why they kept coming day after day. I would be different.  Kids would care about my class.

In one swift shift of 10 hours I began to understand.  And yet, I had no idea the facets and layers hidden beneath the students, system, and classrooms yet to be unearthed in the following years.  Some better, some gems, and some very ugly debris.

I was baptized into the elite club that year of teachers who would never, no, could never watch another heroic Erin Gruwell Freedom Writers or Michelle Pfeiffer save the day teacher movie again.

Dario and I had a turbulent relationship. I wanted to help him and by help him I meant switch him into a “good student” so class could actually go smoothly, and he had wanted, no needed something else.

The problem is, I knew he had more on his plate and was more undernourished in ways I would and will never experience, but I didn’t know how to help him while in a class of 35 other needs.  So we danced and fought, and I ignored and confronted until one day a police officer came and took him to a youth detention center for the rest of the year.  And I sighed a breath of sad relief.

For me it was a lesson in letting go and failed expectations.   It revealed my silent need and desire for a sort of perfection. To snap my fingers and help the kid. I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea, this boy, and the cultural role of perfect women for some reason. I think I’m trying to work out and understand what is fair to expect out of life, relationships, jobs, and people in our stead. Elder Bednar’s conference talk also tugged at this memory when discussing the load we bear.  How it gets us out of ruts, and strengthens us. Dario and I were both similar that year in that we were loaded down. But we thought each other so different.

When do you walk away from a person, a situation, and say, “well, I tried, it’s up to them now”?  I have no perfect answer, but I know I’m aging when I say, I’m glad I went through that because it taught me to try.  While I didn’t love Dario for who he was at the time, I hope I’ve learned in years since to try and meet people where they are.  To allow them room to grow with maybe silently saying, here I am. I think Steinbeck sums it up best in East of Eden with the line, “And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good”.

 

Worship 101

worship

“May the odds be ever in your favor,” she leaned over and whispered in my ear.  I could feel the light weight of her body rest against me and her subtle perfume smell drifted through the air.  I gave her a side glance, wide eyes, and a here-we-go-smile as our mutual understanding though silent was definitely felt. We were quiet observers.  We watched the church goers file in continuously one after another as the sacrament meeting began or had long since begun. Eyes quickly glanced around looking for open seats.  People were noticed and friends beckoned as “How Firm a Foundation” echoed up to our balcony seating.   As the familiar structure of opening prayers, plodding hymns, and humble talks continued, I  started thinking about my Sunday worship – spurred on from my friend’s earlier comment.  Maybe she said what we were all thinking. I noted the vast shapes and ages, styles, and trials as they walked up the stairs. I liked the variation.  It used to panic me.

Let me explain.  My ward has six Relief Societies and three Elders Quorums.  We number between 700-800 people strong.  Or kind of strong, depending on whom you ask.

Welcome to the mid-singles ward.  Let the games begin.

While the cold facts may conjure up images of huddled masses of desperation, to be fair, it’s quite functional from my perspective.  Granted, I have the luxury and problem of being anonymous and coming and going as I please which breeds a type of complacency in my church going habits, but there are masses to be sure, but they include incredible worshipers, leaders, and people as well as what you may or may not be imagining.

I know how it is supposed to work.  You go to church every Sunday.  You take the sacrament and are quiet.  There are hymns, talks, and lessons, a few hellos, conversations, and you leave with more holiness.

In theory.  But there are a few things missing from that equation.

The week before the “hunger games” observation I received an email from a close friend living out of state with her husband and new baby. She said,

“It is so hard to go to church when Jack is screeching and everyone in Gospel Doctrine turns around to look at the show. Do I walk the halls? What is the point? I spent 4 years serving a very NEEDY ward and I feel a little spent/checked out now. A lot was asked of us – especially in my YW calling. And, I want a break. I know it is horrible to admit. I have a bad attitude about it and I don’t know how to shake it. I have never felt this way about church before- I’ve always done what was asked willingly. But, lately, I’d rather catch up on sleep.”

As I sat through the rest of the meetings I knew my intent needed recharging.  That simply enduring three hours without my own resolve is not enough for my worship, for my strength, for my connection to the very reason that gets me to church each week. Hearing others’ honesty about the Sunday routine helped me realize I’m not the only one, and that some of the best souls struggle with worship as well- single and married. And it’s ok.

Church and testimony are cyclical, not a linear line of tasks that once completed can be checked off.  If we come back again and again and strive outside of the arena just as much or more as we do on ‘game day’ we can learn and relearn the intricacies of true worship. I’ve let the sheer size and focus on socialness fade personal worship.  I’m remembering it’s an inside job and largely how my Sunday worship goes is up to me. My focus and resolve has developed a strong sense of ADD on Sundays, and while understandable, church isn’t living up to its design. I’m realizing habits, thoughts, and actions spiraling over and over and over again is a necessary form of worship inside and outside of Sunday – and maybe that’s where the odds become in our favor.

Do you ever struggle getting to church, and once there remaining present?  How do you make church meaningful while cutting  yourself slack to the realities of your demands? What do you do to reevaluate why it is meaningful and important part of your spiritual life?

*post script: the day after I posted this I got a calling as compassionate service leader.  Coincidence?  I think not.  I guess admitting I need to muster resolve from the inside out and start contributing or enhancing my worship was definitely heard in some way.  Yikes:)

 

Giving Over Regret

ok thank you

“What’s your biggest regret?” he asked.  No pried.

Okay, I thought, give him the benefit of the doubt, he’s just trying to keep it …. interesting?

I hummed and hawed and mumbled some “oh gees”, and “ahhh” as he moved from one foot to another with darting eyes.  He chirped back, “we all have them,” as if it was as simple as rattling off a grocery list. My internal dialogue switched into high gear as my face tried to act the part of the-interested-girl-who-is-pleasant-enagaged-and-even-entertained, while my mind raced on how to divert and leave.

“Whatever happened to the boring what do you do” question I joked. I am equally as over that question, but employ it guiltily when needed.

The question shifted my balance and caught me off guard, but not only because it was socially awkward to inquire on the first conversation, but because that question had sprouted in my mind on its own before he asked.

So kind sir who is keeping his conversations fresh, here is what I would say to you if I knew you better, or maybe if we had talked more, or maybe not, but instead, I will put it out there like Kathleen Kelly and will throw it out to the dear cyber void.

I don’t know if I believe in regret. Or, I don’t know if I want to believe in it. I definitely believe in what it feels like. How it dims resolve and identity. How it chokes you momentarily then slinks over to your heart, resting for a second before exiting the body leaving its chills behind.

And then you have to look up and smile at your class, or ask the customer what you can do, or say hi to your friend and act like nothing just ran through you.

I don’t believe it, or the truth of it because don’t we just do the best we can in the moment? We rack our brains and hearts in relationships and say what we think is right, or honest, or in our weak moments what he/she needs to hear. We take the path and go to the school and find the job we think and believe is the right choice.  But, we wonder.  Boy do we wonder.

I think it only feels regretful because we know the story has been written. It is boxed, tied, and told. We must be careful not to rewrite the lines, dialogue, or ending and repackage it in our own heads because that’s not the way it is. Or even meant to be.

Your story is never quite over. The path may need new directions, a new road, or belief that the road continues, but lack of faith in regret can bring conviction in His guidance.

I try to believe and remember that divinity includes wrong paths, missed opportunities, and questions that culminate in a more seamless design than you could ever picture recreating your past or hoping for a certain future.

And that is what I would say to you, my friend about regret.  And I say it to myself as well. Give it up and give it over.

How do you let regrets and questions go?  How do you use our gospel and doctrine as a source of trust and faith on this issue?