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.

How’s Your Heart?

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“How’s your heart?” he asked. This was not your typical question when receiving a simple calling from the bishop, and I suppose my surprise showed in the form of a soft chuckle and broad questioning smile.

I mean does he really want to know I thought? Or, is it like when someone asks you “how are you” and the real litany of answers stream your brain, and then a simple “good thanks, how about you” spurts out.

I blurted out “ahh good, thanks.”

The question gave me pause. Later that night I took stock of my heart and it felt a little forgotten. I mean, we notice other ailments, stiff muscles, head aches, external worries, but what about our hearts? As I took the time to pray that night I found myself saying that I have some thorny places in my heart.

I remembered how phrases in the Book of Mormon about  planting a seed in your heart, and having the words grafted into your heart, and having the spirit swell within your heart were more a part of me than they had been recently. And it got me thinking about the map of my heart at the moment- the state of my seed and vineyard in my old forgotten, but trusty beating heart.

How is my heart? I started to really appreciated that question. I haven’t been giving people credit for actually caring about the state of my heart. Maybe because I’ve lost site in the routine of life of caring for the state of theirs.

Years ago my grandma had open-heart surgery and the cardiologist warned us that she may not be herself for a while; that the heart had to reset. And sometimes, people were never really the same after having their heart cut. She didn’t speak for a while but her anger at her heart’s betrayal and distant eyes said a lot. She kept her word inside.

In some very small way I relate. Feeling like words are, well everything, and yet so often they are stuck inside burdening the heart.

The thing is, sitting and taking stock of where your heart is, or even asking about someone else’s heart is revealing. It is vulnerable. It means risk. But it also means movement and connection. I think it’s a question Christ would ask.

When the heart beats it means new life. Even when you’re not listening or paying attention it is working for you. When blood pumps through our veins and our face turns red because we’re embarrassed, our heart is working. When we cry our heart hurts with us and with others, we are more connected. When we feel happy and hopeful and full of bliss we let our hearts be light. But sometimes that only comes after red face or crying. Or letting someone fix our hearts.

I sat and looked at the dark sky peaking through my blinds, after praying thinking back to the question “how is your heart”, and thought how all those times I felt my heart dim or break it at least reminded me that my heart was still there. Sometimes forgotten about in the rhythm of life. When I let the soldiers of stress march into my heart and reside, the quite monotonous beats turns robotic.

So how’s your heart? Where are your seeds of hope and faith and life? I’m glad for my little shock of a question that helped me tune into my own heart for the moment. Reminding, that it’s there, waiting for nourishment, gratitude, and bright red beats of being alive.

How to Gift Graduates: A Book List

Well guys, it’s another book list.  Can we ever have too many?  I figured it’s that time of year.  May is the new December, and there are recitals, class parties, and ….graduations!  As I sat in my classroom and signed yearbook after yearbook of graduating seniors, I held a sharpie in one hand, students’ yearbooks in the other and thought, how can I summarize in a few words how great they are, far they’ve come, or how hard they worked?  I almost resorted to scrawling H.A.G.S. a time or two, but refrained, as that would totally be an English teacher yearbook travesty of some sort.  So instead, I wrote a book recommendation for them at the end of my short note.

Here are a lot of the ones I suggested. Some are old standbys, some are hot off the press, but they are golden books to be read many times for people of any age.  I know it’s been done – the “let’s give the grad a book” present (I think I got 4 copies of Oh the Places You’ll Go when I graduated), but you know what, words really do hold answers, wisdom, humor, so here they are…

should must

#1 The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion by Elle Luna

I cannot speak highly enough about this author, artist and book.  It all started with one of her articles that went viral, and a year to the day,  her speech was published! It is not only full of inspiration and wisdom, but gorgeous art as well.  Do yourself a favor and pick up two.  One for a grad, and one for yourself!

austen

#2 What Would Jane Do? A Jane Austen Devotional by Potter Style Publishing

Ok, so this one is arguable just for girls (but more power to any guy who wants to read Austen), but it’s a great size with wit and wisdom from the one and only, Jane Austen.

ignorance

#3 The Second Book of General Ignorance: Everything You Think You Know is (still) Wrong by John Lloyd

This is part two to the first General Ignorance book.  Hilarious, humbling, and actually instructive.  A great way to say, “look, just because you graduated, doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of things about this world you still don’t know”.

heroine

#4 The Heroine’s Bookshelf: Life Lessons, from Austen to Wilder by Erin Blakemore

Life stories of Harper Lee, Louisa May Alcott, Zora Neale Hurston, and others intertwine with their novel plots in author Erin Blakemore’s book. She writes vignettes about these women and how their subsequent novel(s) are related to the lives the lead.  I could not put this one down.

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#5 The Dark by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by John Klassen

What is any book list without one children’s book?!  This Blue Ribbon Picture Book Award winner is classic Lemony Snicket.  Simple language with a powerful punch.  A realistic reminder that darkness is in our lives, but how to not be afraid.

rowling

#6 Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination by J.K. Rowling

You had me at Rowling.  That’s all I needed to know when I picked this book up.  Then, I soon realized it was adapted from her powerful commencement speech at Harvard (I made my students watch this years ago and it’s been a favorite ever since).  It is a must read book and perfect small token to take in our purses or to college.

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#7 A Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

This classic is stunning.  If you love the ocean, Anne’s lyrical thoughts on life, love, and youth will hit your heart and resonate.  It’s simply beautiful.

Happy reading!

How to Receive: A Lesson in Grace through Yoga

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“Unclench your jaw.”

“Let your shoulders relax.”

“Now sit.”

“Release.”

“What are we, dogs?” my mind mumbled.  I noted my immediate snark then tried to focus, focus, focus, but the more I ordered my mind to be still the more it ran away.

I had recently learned that the word yoga is a Sanskrit word meaning to yoke or unite. As a teenager my image of taking a yellow egg yolk upon me was cleared up when I learned a yoke is a wooden piece binding the necks of oxen together allowing them to wear weight evenly and move together. So then in yoga, to be yoked means the body and mind are united, and one cannot move faster than the other, which demands a stillness and a movement.

As the instructor glided around the room, words lifted out of her throat like rolling waves; slow and easy, but with force. My mind raced from complicit intoxication to silent internal laughter.  Had a friend been next to me, I’d have lost it for sure. Somehow, probably by some sort of black magic, a mist of lavender and something woodsy sprayed into the hot air. I breathed in its amazing smell and thought it all a bit over the top.

But I liked it.

“It’s only about you; your own mat and process.”

“Open space to receive.”

“Breathe through the discomfort.”

“Release, and now…receive.”

I resisted, and clenched along the way. I mean, what does release and now receive even mean? But I still went through the motions, appearing to comply.  Trying to comply.

Release, receive, release receive, I repeated in my mind.

Sometimes I feel like these instructors and Masters of Balance a little fraudulent, but sometimes I feel like they drink their own brand of Kool-Aid with all the gusto and desire of a 4 year old kid. And I admire that kind of devotion.

As I tried to still my mind, the instructor said,

“We will now end in child’s pose.”

“Head down, arms reaching forward.”

I always think of a prayer in this position.  That’s how a lot of my prayers look.  Propped up on my bed, head down, bum up, arms in front of me.  It started because the wood floor was too hard and my bed was too high. In this setting with the ambient fake ocean and magic lavender air I closed my eyes and envisioned rows of Yogis bowing before the Sun in Mecca.

We turned over and ended the class on our back facing up. Savasana. Hands open.

Thoughts usually stream through my mind during corpse pose. I know we’re supposed to be quiet, but this day I remember reading something about grace being an act of receiving with open hands.  I never thought of it that way.

To be able to receive is graceful. Full of grace.

Letting someone give you a compliment, letting someone do something for you, not counting, owing, or controlling, but letting it happen just because it or they are gracious. Just opening your hands and receiving.  I always thought receiving first required sacrifice. I thought that to receive, you have to give, and while that may be true in part, maybe all I’ve been doing is begging for grace and openness when I’ve been pushing it away. My wishful mind and busy body disjointed in a singular prayer earning for a yoked release of weight.

I continued to lie down and opened my hands a little more, letting the thoughts stream, because grace is being enough and receiving whatever gracefully enters.

A great discussion about Yoga and Mormonism here.

How do you define, interpret, or practice grace?

How To: Be Poetic

poetry is...

If February is for lovers, then April is for poets.  A host of activities, websites, and even hashtags exist and sprout up in April to encourage people to embrace poetry.

I realize not many people claim to be poets, or even like poetry, but let’s just take a moment and remember what the one and only Mr. Keating (played by Robin Williams) said in Dead Poet’s Society.

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. So medicine, law, business, engineering… these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love… these are what we stay alive for.” 

If that’s not convincing or doesn’t give you a kick in your poetry pants, I don’t know what will.  I think most of us interact with language in poetic ways for more than we realize. Quotations, lyrics, famous movie lines, and scripture all have elements of powerful words and detailed imagery to unearth emotion and knowledge. Continue reading

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?