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.

What’s Going on Back There


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


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.

Favorite Lists


I know one should never start a post, conversation, or speech with a disclaimer, but… here is mine.  This blog post is about lists, goals, and writing. A “what would you tell your younger self” type of list. It’s been done- I get it. But they’re my favorite. There will also be clichés, so consider yourself warned.

I always felt like my new year started in August instead of January 1st. As a teacher for the last decade, the beginning of a school year signaled new goals, fresh starts, and an alarm clock. This year is different. I’m switching gears, making changes, and the fresh start is more of a to be continued. As I was reflecting on all these new changes, I cleaned out some old files, and came across an assignment I did for a fellow teacher. He needed a list of goals or advice from a current teacher to a new teacher for one of his graduate classes. A “what I wish I knew then” list. I remember not being too excited to make time sit and write something up, but reading through them years later makes me glad I obliged.

Here’s the thing, I know the list will probably mean more to me than you. Especially at a time where I need my own voice to call from the past and nudge me and say “hey you, remember how you learned these gems?” The funny thing is they are equally relatable to life in general, not just school or teaching, but as a lot of you are getting ready to send kids off to school, or just continuing through the days, here’s hoping some of these thoughts may give you a little umph, insight, or wherewithal for the coming months. Oh and maybe little reminders of how to find joy and peace. That would be good too.

Without further ado, “what I would tell my younger self”:

1) Breathe. In and out.  Have a morning ritual that is calm and peaceful – you’ll need it to get in a right frame of mind.  Attitude is everything.

2) Having said that however, you will have hard days that suck.  This is normal.

3) Tell friends and family stories about hard times.  They will turn humorous.  People are fascinated by jr. high and high school [or work/life] stories.  Keep a little journal of funny things you hear.  This will lighten you up.

4) Remember to show more and tell (talk) less.  Students [and people] learn by doing, not just by listening and taking notes.  Actions speak louder than words. Get off your high horse.

5) Students and people will never change by shame. Make a conscious effort to never discipline with shame.

6) You may never know how one thing you said influenced a quiet student (for better or worse). Think of yourself when you were in jr. high or high school.  Enough said.

7) Choose people over tasks.

8) Remember that people will forget what you said, but remember how you made them feel. (Thank you Maya Angelou)

9) You will feel like a fraud sometimes – teaching requires a whole new type of ego and identity.  Don’t worry it is still you.

10) Pray for wisdom and perspective.

11) Make genuine one-on-one contact with at least one student [or person] per day.

12) Talk to other teachers (people) that are bucket fillers not soul suckers for ideas and inspirations.

13) Try to lighten up and have some fun.

The power of words – to yourself and others is always stunning later on. I love the advice and writings of those who have been there, done that. What would you write to your younger self? No really, I want to know.

How’s Your Heart?


“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!


#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.


#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”.


#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.


#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.


#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.


#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!