Up until 4 months ago: Thoroughly Mormon Me

Since my belief is in a state of evolution, it really makes sense to next talk about how it evolved this far. I’m throwing this out there right now: I’m wordy. I’m sorry, but there’s nothing for it.

I am mormon to the bone. My dad had a fairly wild and non-religious childhood and converted in his mid-thirties. My mom was raised methodist and converted to mormonism in her 20s. Though they are very different people, both of my parents are very smart- my mom is one of the wisest people I know, and my dad instilled in me quick thought and the desire to question everything. By the time I came along, we were a typical mormon family: 2 parents and 5 kids sitting in the third row in Sacrament every Sunday morning. My older brothers went to EFY, then BYU, then missions to the Phillipines and New Caledonia. My older sisters weren’t as clean-cut: both experimented with other churches, other countries, or temporary chemical alteration, but by they left their teens they too were on the mormon bandwagon (the oldest was temple-married at 19 and had 4 kids by the age of 28; the one closest to me in age served a mission in Argentina and now has 2.5 kids).

A good representation of my childhood. (I'm the angel, of course).
A good representation of my childhood. (I’m the angel, of course).

I, however, have always been ridiculously and thoroughly mormon. I remember being pulled out of primary so the teacher could ask me to please give the OTHER kids a chance to answer the questions. At 8 years old, I bore my testimony on how I would lie awake at night thinking of how to best bear my testimony the next month. My parents put up a stink at school when they wouldn’t let me do my 6th grade Famous People report on Brigham Young. In 9th grade, I wrote a report about the evidence of a family of Israelites coming  to the Americas by boat. I was in the seminary council, read the entire quad cover-to-cover when I was 16, and loved reading apologist studies. I never smoked pot, drank alcohol, or snuck out; heck I didn’t even kiss a boy until my senior year. I was (and am) very close to my parents, and other than some struggles with school (mainly being bored out of my mind and enjoying “gaming the system”), I was a good kid.

I had all the right dreams and goals for a mormon girl. Except that wedding dress is so not temple-acceptable.
I had all the right dreams and goals for a mormon girl. Except that wedding dress is so not temple-acceptable.

I had the perfect aspirations for a mormon girl: I wanted to graduate from BYU with a ring on my finger and a baby in my arms. I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom my whole life. That said, mormonism wasn’t a perfect fit. By the time I could drive, I skipped Young Women regularly.  I couldn’t take 5 YW lessons in a row on temple marriage and supporting the priesthood. I remember at EFY going to a class on the obscure Old Testament book of Hosea and coming out feeling so alive because it was the first time in years that I learned something NEW about the Bible.

I’ll admit, I made a point of not being a “sheep” Mormon. I’ve always liked to find exceptions to rules and loved to show I understood the principles behind something while not following the letter of the law. My best friends smoked pot (I never did) and I worshiped 60s/70s folk rock. And my collection of R-rated films is impressive, if I do say so myself (I’m sorry, you can’t tell me Amelie and Braveheart haven’t made me a better person).

I’ve always said I have an over-active guardian angel. Truly, things go unfairly well for me. Teachers and professors passed me when I didn’t deserve it. I got grounded just before my 16th birthday and my parents threw me a surprise party anyway. Jobs fall into my lap. I got into BYU with a meager 3.1 GPA. I can do everything possible to sabotage myself (and believe me, I do) and things still just magically go right for me. I ended up marrying a guy and not knowing until years later just what a lucky and amazing fortune that was. The only person I know who has had a more blessed life than me is my sister L- but she’s actually worked her butt of for it. Me, it just falls in my lap.

It’s hard to live up to those kind of blessings. “To whom much is given, much is required” and “Be ye therefore perfect”… that’s a lot of pressure. Not to mention the whole “I know what your IQ is, why are you getting a B-?” schpiel.

Jenno with Christus Idaho Falls 1996ish

I was miserably and deeply depressed, starting when I was 11 or 12. “Potential” was a curse word to me. 2nd Nephi chapter 4 was read almost every day. “O then, if I have seen so great things, if the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men hath visited men in so much mercy, why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions?”

My college experience had highs and lows- well, more lows than highs. Basically, at the end of my junior year at BYU, I had no ring on my finger and no baby in my arms. But I was a darn good Relief Society teacher, I adored the BYU experience, and even though I was becoming more liberal by the month and never enjoyed making vinyl letter crafts, my testimony was rock solid. As the age of 21 loomed before me, I poured through my VERY generic and ambiguous patriarchal blessing trying to find if a mission was right for me. I’ve always loved sharing the gospel in what I thought was a logical, approachable way, but I realized if I got a mission call to English-speaking Idaho, I would be beyond bitter. I wanted to learn languages and travel the world. Since that’s obviously not the right spirit for a missionary to have, instead of a mission, I opted to travel on my own dime/time to Paris and live on my own for 5 months. It was glorious.

I was a free man in Paris, I felt unfettered and alive… even if my apartment was teeny tiny and on the 8th floor with no elevator

6 wonderful years ago…

I was still on the emotional high from that when I met K at the beginning of my senior year at BYU. Well, re-met him: we had known each other freshman year but never clicked before his mission. He wasn’t what I always pictured for myself: in my opinion at the time he was not inherently “intellectual”, he doesn’t play guitar or sing, and he’s not into Shakespeare. But he’s handsome, was a worthy priesthood holder, loves Tolkien and has curly hair, and has always treated me like a queen, so he met enough requirements and I fell head-over-heels in love with him.


We married in summer of 2006, and it has been getting better ever since. We have two hilarious and adorable kids (Superboy and Wonderchubb). I worked to support us until K graduated in Math Education and started teaching 9th grade algebra at a poorer school in Houston. Once Superboy was about 8 months old, I quit my remote fulltime job and finally achieved my dream of being a stay-at-home mom at the beginning of 2009. That lasted until our “thrifty” cars both broke down a year later and a teacher’s salary couldn’t cut it.

At about that time, I went to a Relief Society general meeting. I had a bad attitude about it. I’ll admit, I usually hate those things. They’re boring. I was playing video games on my cellphone. Inwardly, I was moping about our finances and the fact we had no maternity coverage, so baby #2 wasn’t going to be practical in the foreseeable future. Before the session started, they had a local sister get up and sing a song- “Consider the Lilies”. It stuck me like a bolt of relevatory lightning. It was the second most powerful spiritual impression of my life (the first was to not buy into a condo timeshare early on in our marriage). Otherwise, the Holy Ghost has a rather laissaz-faire attitude with me: many feelings of warm fuzzies and God’s love, but no practical advice or clear guidance. But this time, it was sure prophecy: our finances would work out (after all, God clothes the lilies and feeds the birds), and we could start trying for baby number 2 the next February (4 months in the future). And it would be a girl.

Finances got worse and I wrote the whole thing off. I got a job as a Barnes and Noble bookseller for minimum wage- something low-stress to help pay the bills. End of January, an old client found my information from my family blog and reached out to offer me a $50/hour job 10-15 hours the week. For a linguistics major/stay-at-home mom/B&N bookseller, it was quite the unexpected offer. And once word got out I was back in the game, two other companies reached out with (cumulative) similar offers. I quit my stress-free minimum wage job at B&N, stuck my son at the local christian church for a Mother’s Day Out program 3 days a week (why oh WHY do mormon’s not have these, considering the kids per capita?!?), and started consulting from home again. Sure enough, finances worked out and that spring I got pregnant with a girl, who was born the following thanksgiving (2010).

One year ago, my husband was getting more and more miserable teaching, and I was enjoying my job (and the extra income) more and more, so we decided I’d go back to work fulltime and K would “retire” and become a stay-at-home dad.


And we’re happy. So happy. Happier than I thought we’d ever be. K is a fantastic “mommyman” and, in his words, he feels “more appreciated and productive now as a stay-at-home parent than he ever did as a teacher”. He was already doing most of the cooking and cleaning and is now a pro diaper-changer. Whereas for the first time in my life, I feel like I have worth- amazing worth- beyond having made two darn cute kids. And not “divine worth” because of where I came from or my eternal potential (which, if I’m feeling snarky, I could point out everyone has in common), but because of who I am RIGHT NOW. For someone who spent over a decade feeling guilty for wasting air by breathing and despising the word “potential”, this is a huge change.

So maybe I was at the top of my “pride cycle” when I my testimony was shattered by the discovery of certain parts of Mormon history last February. Maybe I’m not needing to rely on God so much, so I’m forgetting gratitude. Maybe since I’m working out of the home and go on business trips without my family, I’ve let my priorities change.

But that’s not what it feels like. I feel the hand of God -whatever or whoever that is- so clearly in our current good fortune. I’m overflowing with gratitude. My family-and their happiness and well-being- is still my top priority, which is why I work. The only thing that has changed- happening to coincide with these life-changes- is my understanding and belief in the eternal, infallible power of the priesthood. It’s amazing how the rest came down quickly after that. But that’s a post for another day.

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