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.

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?

 

Sacred Luck and Lines

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Maddison Colvin, Temple Overlay

“And whoso receiveth you, there I will be also, for I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you…” D&C 84:88

There’s a popular activity to teach narrative writing.  Years ago in my undergrad teaching program we had to practice the method.  You fold a piece of graph paper and create an x and y axis in order to graph and plot positive and negative events of your life.  The intent is to visualize and recall not only your stories, but to see how a negative dot may have influenced, or led to a positive event.

The one and only time I wanted to see a quadrant and an axis was to devise and create a story.

My graph was typical. I did it because we were told to, and began graphing what I thought was a cliché exercise dotting my life with the usual suspects.  Date of birth. Changing schools. First kiss. A cruel remark. A fun vacation. As I continued, the density of other events waded below the surface, hidden from my public mathematical timeline. But all involved people in my life.

Even in the robotic adherence of the process I knew the dots connected.  But I felt like the lines entangling and topping each other created the story. Layers. Seemingly random people, places, and things evolved into future glittering guides of a higher order and big picture maybe only I could discern. 

“The size of your faith or the degree of your knowledge is not the issue. It is the integrity you demonstrate toward the faith you do have and the truth you already know.”–‘Lord I Believe’ Jeffrey R. Holland

Crap shoot.  These two words have littered my conversations lately. And even in mutual commissary, a familiar whisper says no, it’s not. But man it sometimes feels like it. This line of thinking is easy and believable. Like an invisible force field the tug of war between nostalgia of a divine plan and the perception of chance create tension.

Line upon line upon line.

Sometimes for a girl of faith I’m really full of doubt.  They know each other well. And maybe the space between lies the power of belief. Choosing again and again to believe.  To see the layers which seem blurred, but seeking the existing picture. The space between is where faithful uncertainty resides.

“Because if you’re lucky enough to have people in your life that make you happy, that inspire you, that move you, you need to devour each moment…these people are sacred.” – Katie Kacyinsky 

I read the quote above in a time of wonder.  And thought, why do I love that the word lucky and sacred sit together?  Because really, is there any luck about it? And I thought of the many people in my life that make it sacred; confirming that faith and choice and hope all intersect and weave within a plan.  And in that moment a litany of my sacred luck went through my mind, and my questions about the unlucky stuff  faded.

Of intersections and dots of contact. Maybe sacredness comes by finding the grace in everyday people and situations and if they  want to call that luck- fine.

What is your litany of sacred luck?

Character Sketch

Sometimes I think small flickers of time and chance actually become bigger, longer seconds.   Those are probably some of the only times I feel like I understand Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Which, I know I really do not, but when literal seconds breathe longer – I feel like I do.

He was standing by the bus stop and I knew I had to walk past him.  I was late.  My heart races and ticks with the second hand when I am late.  I hate the reminding pulse and pressure of hustle.  I thought to myself,  ”just smile and keep walking…he may ask for money, but just keep walking.”  I’ve been approached and asked a few times at this stop.  Amidst my self -imposed race, I nagged at myself for parking here yet again. But really, I didn’t want to walk past him with my painted lips, pencil skirt, and shoes that beat the female cadence along the sidewalk. I felt my material abundance made his lack more apparent. It all felt a bit ridiculous at the moment. And I was walking into church.  Holiness. Worship.  I judged his thoughts. His supposed words of my “holiness” as I walked past his obvious need.

But the thing about thinking you know what someone is thinking, is you’re assuming you know who they are. And I didn’t.  How could I?  Maybe unconsciously, but arrogantly nonetheless, I thought I knew his type.

I hopped out of the car and walked as fast as I could. He turned in rhythm with the noise of my shoes and smiled.  As the moment expanded and his eyes shined, he said, “what a beautiful smile!” And it was not creepy, and he didn’t want a thing.  He commented on my stone necklace and asked if I made it.

His tone was genuine, his voice was grounded, and I felt the gravity of my distortion between space, time, and judgment.

He had grey sweats on.  Oxygen snaked up his nose and tethered him to his spot. He had a calm presence. I smiled and talked for seconds then started on my way, when he quietly shouted, “keep being happy”.  He thinks I’m happy I thought.  I’m glad he felt I was happy around him.

He asked for nothing. He gave to me.  He assumed nothing and I assumed everything.

While this was only a moment, a brief sketch or facet of his character revealed truth. I felt his aspect of  consideration and acceptance if only for an instant.  In my rush and chaotic mental to do list for the week I thought this was one more small hurdle, but his words brought perspective and briefly grounded me.  As I walked away I felt happy.  I felt of his warmth and I wanted to turn around and say, where are you going? Who are you? Do you have a family who loves you? Why do you need oxygen? But I kept moving and time raced on.

But I could have stayed there a while.

On Verse and Veterans

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The white marble sat frozen, cold.  Green grass grew evenly around straight rows of precise lines of stone. They had names, and dates etched and engraved.  But the stories were missing.  Marked somewhere else; maybe in the kitchen of his mom, broken heart of a wife, a forgotten friend left waiting.  I wondered if the straight rows and meticulous care echoed enough remorse for the debt.  I walked, and in silence the sun reddened my cheeks.  The smiles settled on faces of other visitors, but only subtly inched up toward eyes.  I remember my friends who lived in Washington D.C. telling me they loved Arlington.  In fact, Sunday walks and time alone often accompanied them to this cemetery. The cemetery alive with people.

 

I have no stories about veterans.  I have no written record of a war fought, survived, destroyed, or won. I have not had to barter, beg, reach, stretch or pray for safe returns.  I have not had a soldier return a stranger and struggle to reconcile lives.

 

I have seen pictures of my grandpa in uniform, and have heard his daughter say he would not speak of days across the ocean. He left us no stories, she would say.  I have watched on TV, like you, the returns and departures, a tidal wave of fatigues enter and leave bases and planes with tears, kisses, smiles.

 

And I always wonder what they’re thinking. Is it worth it? Do they feel pride?  The sacrifice and commitment, wins and losses are entangled in the personal stories.  From the mouths of soldiers.  How do they tell their stories?  Can words work?  I find it interesting that many soldiers from WWI and WWII used poetry.  Prose in short phrases to try and connect meaning.  To ground shards and fragments to roots.

 

Soldiers like Rupert Brooke.  He was a soldier in WWI and died of dysentery on a ship in 1915. His poem is known as one of the most famous to come out of WWI.

 

If I should die, think only this of me:

That there’s a some corner of a foreign field

That is for ever England. There shall be

In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;

A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,

Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,

A body of England’s breathing English air

Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

What do you think of Brooke’s words?  How has your life been personally affected by wars, or soldiers’, sacrifices?  How do you show gratitude for others’ dedication?