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.

Quiet Women Warriors

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Lately stories from women who help take care of an elderly parent, a child with disabilities, or even a neighbor they check in on every night have crossed my path. I listen, or observe, or hear a third party story and their quiet strength and firm exhaustion hangs heavy inside me.

Some of these same women say they hear the phrase “I just don’t know how you do it”  a lot.  And from the sounds of it – those words become blankets of frustrated suffocation rather than of comfort.  “You just do it, they say.” All  while shouting Oh My Gosh in their minds.

“You do it because you have to,” they say.  And tears often stream, while forcing a smile, when they explain. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s an honor and a privilege, but it’s hard.” And with the rhythm of their caring and mourning and working and soothing, so beats their expansive hearts.

I think they’re quiet warriors.

My mom spent one to three hours a night, five to seven days a week, for five years in a nursing home.  By choice, and by duty. It simply became a way of life.  She went to her mother’s side and talked, fed, bathed, and clothed her.

It’s what one does.  It’s what mostly daughters do.

On a sunny spring day, after many ups and downs the gradual end began.  The family was called and we set up camp in my grandma’s home. We never called it her home, she would be repulsed at the thought of living out her years in such a place.  But coming into this world and leaving this world is a tricky business.

As I lay on the bed of the Home, my eyes opened, then closed then opened in a battle of will.  Warm sun rays streamed into the room as if paying homage to her. She often rolled her chair and her dog into the hallways of this new Old Home and felt the light and sun on their skin.  Sun baths, she’d say. I bathed my tired soul in the warmth as I rolled over on the bed, in and out of sleepy consciousness.  My mom sat next to her bed for hours and days, and readjusted blankets and laid her hands on her hands, and swept the hair out of her closed eyes.  Her two sons came in and out of the room with nervous steps between phone calls in the halls; a general discomfort and dis-ease with naked skin and fragile mothers.

My grandma reached out one last time and chose to leave during the short moment when people were making a phone call, or briefly stepped out of the room – the weight of exhaustion heavy.  In silence, we, the women of her world proceeded to touch her hands and her cheeks and looked upon her soft skin – listened for more breath, but none came.  And while we all breathed a sigh of release and the sun stream in behind us a new hole took shape.

How do we take care of others around us? How has it changed you?  Have you had this duty and a privilege?

My Little Ball of Light

Prioritized Relationships

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man…” [Insert Mormon singles parodies, parallels, jokes because let’s be honest- we’ve heard them all].

Singles wards.  Two small words evoke a rush of stories, opinions, sighs, smiles, and eye rolls among Latter-day singles.  Either that or *cricket *cricket  silence.  Silence engulfed in bewilderment or indifference.

If you want to take it one step further, get crazy and start a discussion about mid-singles wards. As a member of one of them, I can attest that like the wards themselves (most numbering in between 500-800 people), the hallways, doors, hearts, and minds are bursting with equal parts success, potential, broken stories, and tangled expectations.

I have read blogs, bashings, and hopeful preaching on the bloggernacle-and-other-ospheres.  Some logic sticks while other philosophies fall short. I am saturated. I feel we have turned into hamsters- spinning our wheels grasping to anecdotal oddities and guilt ridden annoyance.

But. I have felt fine, even rooted unity alongside those moments of  frustrated indifference.

And I wonder– aside from the natural ebb and flow of life what makes the difference? Why do I get up, try and look presentable and go to church? Because honestly, I don’t always love going.  I know this is not exclusive to being single, but that many regardless of marital status have their thing that pokes and pricks inside.

Sundays seem to let opposing sensations bloom and bruise with more potency.

So then, what is that ball of little golden light that beams and dims and pushes us onward?

I’ve found in its distilled simplicity to be relationships.

Here’s the deal.  For me, the Us. vs. Them mentality is the source of apathy. It cant be Singles vs. Marrieds. Old vs. Young. Liberal vs. Conservative. Yes, it feels that way at times, but can we all just be members?  One part of the body of Christ? To seek connection with Christ and one another is my light and my why.  Easier said than done, but to capitalize on a good phrase, knowing is half the battle.

I recently met Ali Parrish, a single woman who is charming, positive, fun, and centered.  Her ideas and writings resonate with me and others in this particular season of life. In one of her posts she tackles this very idea.

In her post, she articulates my thoughts best with the following excerpt.

“We believe in more than prioritized to do’s but rather in prioritized to be’s; we believe in more than solely prioritized responsibilities but prioritized relationships. That life, in the end, is not so much about what we did, but who we have become, and how we have influenced others around us in their development of becoming as well.

Starting centrally, first in our hearts, then in our homes, extending to our homelands and beyond. The peace we seek is not solely that which is personal but it starts there and then extends to the people God has entrusted most closely to us – family and close friends. Surely, our influence will be most far reaching as we reach out best to those who are closest to us. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if everyone was nurtured well by those close around them.

We live in a day of so much connectivity: Facebook, Twitter, email, phone calls, instant messaging, Instagram, etc,. The target helps me see clearly who it is most important for me to stay well connected with. Distinguishing the difference between prioritized people in my life has helped me feel peace about not being as accessible to others as I would like to be if I had all the time in the world, but I do not. Lately, I have been focusing on quality rather than quantity when it comes to relationships and people in my life. I have been “pruning” my life in a sense. I haven’t wanted quantity as much as I have craved for a sense of “closeness.”

Our challenge may be staying closely connected with the central circles while being connected to so many others. I cannot give myself to every out-of-the-blue message in my multiple inboxes. I cannot attend every social invitation available. Life has its limitations, and we cannot give in great measure to those in the outer circles and expect to have much of ourselves “left over” for the the inner circles, the priority people we love most and want to be best for.

So for this present pruning period and season of simplifying my life, here’s to saying no to too many outer circle options. Here’s to double checking my aim with my target. Here’s to keeping my eyes focused on those central circles in my scope.”

The pruning, enduring and flow of our life occurs relationally.  And here’s the kicker, I have have to seek relationships and be that light for someone in order to get it back. From there, our own energy and spirit can connect to create a warmth and calm.  That little light inside (yes, go ahead, start singing I’m going to let it shine) will soothe and remind of truths known long before you arrived on earth.

And so we ask – what helps you keep centered? To let the golden center radiate outward to others instead of letting the complexities and separateness rule? How do you feel whole and unified?

Surprise: Golden Links

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1997

The summer between ninth and tenth grade I read Great Expectations on the deck next to the trees. Not equipped, or just too fresh to understand, it eluded me. But because it was assigned reading, the pleasing, achieving, insecure girl sat and read, and told myself I liked, and even understood it. I’ve always meant to go back and read it again.

2014

17 years later, a quote flew onto my desk. Literally. It fell out of a binder I pulled from a shelf. The quote read,

“That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But, it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.” – Great Expectations, Chapter 9 

2005

The first link on a memorable day I walked into a class to meet my student teacher mentor.  Still the pleasing, achieving girl on the inside I stood up straight, smiled, and walked in. She briefly gazed up, half smiled, looked me up and down (or maybe that was only in my head) and appeared somewhat annoyed as she helped a student. She said, “one minute…have a seat.”  I pretended to look around the classroom, but really I was looking at her.  She was beautiful, probably in her late fifties, wore high-heeled boots and leggings on her thin legs. She wore lipstick and looked polished. It made me slightly intimidated, but I loved that she cared about how she looked while standing in front of rambunctious teens, but wondered why at the same time.

Now

I’ve thought about calling or stopping by this teacher’s house who became a friend and mentor. We promised we’d go to lunch here and there. Intentions. She made a scary thorny rite of passage like student teaching fun and personal.  A lady who laughed and rolled her eyes at the silly and ridiculous, who stood up for me when students cheated and parents disagreed, and who wanted to talk about neighborhood royalty and design instead of grade point averages when we sat at parent teacher conferences. And – she always asked about my love life. I liked her whimsy, romance, and moxy. She had independence, a hard work ethic, a bookcase organized by color, and five daughters. She also had or would have the beginning stages or Parkinson’s, but no one knew.

My last day of student teaching, she gave me the book A Gift from the Sea, which confirmed parts of our souls were kindred spirits. She told me her tradition of screaming as loud as she could while driving away on her last day of school and gardening all throughout the summer. I walked away feeling accomplished and perfectly placed in my teaching assignment for more important reasons than teaching philosophies.

A few years after our time together she retired to care for her husband and herself. I ran into her at a restaurant and she looked and sounded the same. She said she was writing her history down.  Now this is no ordinary history, and even when she told me I knew it would have the English teacher spice and her own vision.  She read me two pages and they were funny, detailed, about nothing and said everything.  Just the thing children, and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren would actually want to read one day. Her voice will lift off the pages.  The sterile dates and details transformed. She is doing it in vignettes and then letting them come as they do – she’ll order them chronologically later she said.  She said she feels pushed to do it.  That she doesn’t know how much longer she’ll have her memory.

The importance of writing our voice and memories down rested heavy in my chest as I listed to her read her words over the phone. Write stories down.  Hers were as simple as a childhood memory playing a game, or how she felt about being one of many Judy’s in her class.  That one was entitled “No Nomenclature”

And I am the larger. Better. Enriched.  My life has many amazing people and chain of events. Sometimes I fear I’m letting my golden chains rust over.  The momentous day I met her was so ordinary. The uncomfortable joy. Now for my promise of lunch to continue, and polish the chain.

What moments and people in your life have unexpectedly marked and changed you? What is it about these experiences that we hold close?

Passion: Under Water

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I’m teaching Hemingway in class.  A Farewell to Arms- where war, love, food, nature, and alcohol litter the pages.  Selling the plot to a bunch of 17- year- olds was quite easy. Like I said, war, love (or let’s be honest, sex), food, and alcohol. But I know, and hopefully they will too, it contains more.  Nuances, often unspoken, unseen, but felt. Maybe their young hearts are too fresh to grasp or understand it in its entirety, but, maybe not. Hemingway’s sentences are short, brave, and true. Then there are long parts of serene scenes of nature and of leaves falling and of clear water and it is usually crisp and clean and followed by a manly scene with shrapnel and blood (and of course a lot of the conjunction and thrown in for good measure). I’m drawn to his lack of explanation at this time in my life.

A few days ago I put Hemingway’s “iceberg theory” on the board for the class to discuss:

“If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water.” – Ernest Hemingway

The dignity of movement.

That phrase held me captive.

Movement and stillness.  I have been on the move and felt as if I have not had a moment to breathe, to dive deep; to just be still lately.  And ironically, because of the reliable tide and current of the days I’ve felt stagnant.

Some critics say that Hemingway’s omissions created distance from the characters, and lacked a sufficient amount of action. Distance and insufficient action is one way to put life lately –it’s easy to live on the surface.  But I think the depth is there. Sometimes forgotten, but there.

It’s made me think that to stop and get to know a new person, or unearth new scriptural meaning,(or to even take time to read them at all), or to take the time to ask new and refreshing questions to friends and our Heavenly Father is to believe in the dignity of the underneath.  The underbelly.  And sometimes searching requires ugly dive gear and sacrifice.

I’ve begun to see that though it is simple, to exist solely on one-eighth of potential and possibilities without believing more exists, depletes passion and gratitude.

The dignity for me also comes in believing the movement below awaits discovery – directing the course of the visible.  While not always seen or acknowledged, it exists.

Later, that day I found some waves drawn on the board with the words “go under water”.

I am going to try and take that advice, while marveling at the dignity of the seen and unseen.

 

 

Our Binders Full of Women

diana barrysI hovered over my desk and turned on my computer. Too busy to sit, I became a frantic bird and flitted about from one thing to another, never finishing the item at hand. I walked back and noticed the homepage had skipped to a different site. Thin legs sucked into dark denim glared at me.

The caption ‘how to wear boyfriend jeans 18 different ways’ taunted viewers in bold block letters.  Do I really need an article to tell this to me? And 18? Come on. I thought. But I clicked anyway.

I looked away, and thought back to the weekend.  My college roommates had planned a short get-a-way to California.  This was no small feat: jobs, babies, and husbands were left in order for 5 girls to travel from 4 different states for 3 days. We run 13 years deep, and have known each other through boyfriends, break-ups, unfortunate fashion fads, heartbreaks, marriages, moves, wishes, and defeats.  We are women now, but laugh and relax as the clear-eyed, open-hearted 18 year olds we were when we walked through the doors of college life.

The rarity and blessing in the lack of competition, drama and the ease of support, transparency and laughter is not lost on me.  In moments when I forget there is divine construction of people and events in my life (which happens mostly in dramatic dating woes and familial angst), I remember these women and how I’m wrapped in their stories, and they in mine, and am brought back to a warm knowledge in the strength and holiness of my associations in all realms. I’ll just say they are my Diana Barrys and leave it at that. Continue reading