This is Jennifer, and she is a Mormon woman — a woman who has had a significant impact on my life.
I first met Jennifer when I was a mousy 12-year-old, beginning the adventure called junior high school. Jennifer was my P.E. [physical education] teacher.
To help you understand one reason why she had such an influence on me, it might help to know a little about me. I wasn’t a typical teenager, especially not at first. I was socially backward, a bit of a tomboy, and more interested in studying and sports than in boys or clothes. If you were to read my “All About Me” journal from that stage in my life, my answer to the question “I like to spend most of my time thinking about….” was:
So, naturally, my P.E. teacher would be high on the list of people who might be able to impact my life. And Jennifer did. She was a young, dynamic, energetic teacher. I liked her enough as a teacher to sign up for her Spanish class as an eighth grader. She was as much fun there as she was in the gym. I got involved as a line caller for the volleyball team and I tried out and made the basketball team in the eighth and ninth grades. (Yes, you guessed it, she was the coach.)
I grew up in an area where there were many Mormons around, so it was not unusual for her to talk in Spanish class about her mission in Chile. I knew from the get-go that she was passionate about the Church, about her mission, about life, about people. She joined the Church when she was 17, and is the only Mormon in her family. [We’ll be featuring her conversion story on a later date.]
Junior high was a very difficult time for me, and being involved with sports was one of my saving graces. Having a teacher and coach like Jennifer made a difference. She believed in me. She encouraged me. It sounds cliché, but she was someone I could look up to. And she has lived up to that admiration.
We have kept in touch over the years. After I moved onto high school, Jennifer chose to change careers; she opened an office as an insurance agent and has built an incredibly successful business. She has fun maintaining contact with past students by helping them with their insurance needs. (We get birthday cards from her every year!)
Jennifer loves to golf. She loves to travel with friends and family. One of her favorite pastimes combines her love of travel and her love of sports: she set the goal to attend baseball games in all the stadiums in the United States!
Jennifer is 51 and has never married. This is what she says about being single in a church that highly values marriage and family:
“People have often said of me, ‘you have such a great attitude about being single.’ I usually reply, ‘What other options do I have?’ Life is too short and too full of opportunities to cry in your cup. The happiest single women I know are the ones who live their lives to the fullest, and THEN if the opportunity to marry comes along, they have already a rich life to share.
“When I was 18, and had been in the Church for just one year, I received my “Patriarchal Blessing,” which is a little like a “road map” to life, setting out our challenges, blessings in life. I was at the time “waiting” for “my missionary” whom I planned to marry, who would be home in 10 months. I listened as the Patriarch [the person who gives the blessing, or better said, gives voice to the blessing] said, ‘You will be sealed to a worthy young man in the temple, and share the glorious blessings of the priesthood’ (so far so good). Then he said, ‘be prepared to face disappointment and discouragement before you make your choice.’ Well, you could have knocked me right off that folding chair! That certainly didn’t meet the requirements of the path that I had planned for my life! But now, 33 years later, that blessing has been one of the greatest sources of comfort I’ve ever had. When a romance doesn’t work out, I always think, ‘that’s okay, this too must all be part of the plan.’ I guess that’s why I’ve always had ‘such a good attitude’ about being single. (But He’d better be saving a really good one for me!!) 🙂 ”
It’s easy to see that one of the characteristics that I most admire in Jennifer is her trust in the Lord.
I have also, over the years, watched with admiration how she has devoted much time to her callings [church responsibilities] serving in the Young Women’s organization [for young women ages 12-18] in various capacities, including as a president. She has also served as a Primary president. She has taught Sunday School for the adults (called Gospel Doctrine). In her many callings, she has had numerous opportunity to work closely with — and even to teach! — priesthood leaders. We had an interaction about the fact that some people think that Mormon women are somehow second-class citizens, or less valued because they are not ordained to the priesthood. She had this to say in response:
“I am in awe of all that the Mormon men in my life do to help me. Some would say I am naïve, but I have served as a Primary president and a Young Women president, under two different bishops [congregation leaders], who continually asked “what can we do to help you?” Not to mention being a Gospel Doctrine teacher twice and having to teach in front of seminary teachers, institute teachers, stake presidents and a mission president, who have never made me feel any less than a brilliant gospel scholar.”
She also talks about some of the blessings that came through the years as she gave her heart to service. In particular, she reflects on the years she spent serving in the Young Women’s organization:
“I made dozens of friends with the women I served with, with the mothers of the young women I taught, and even with those young women themselves who are now in their 30s. I was so busy serving that I didn’t realize the Lord, without my noticing, had sent so many women into my life, whom I now consider my eternal friends. In giving, I got so much more back. I feel like it all comes down to: ‘You get what you give.'”
We talk sometimes in the Church about how all women can be mothers — nurturers — even if they are not raising children of their own. Jennifer exemplifies that kind of nurturing influence — with former students, with friends’ children, with the young women and children she has served, with missionaries who are serving (she’s an avid missionary writer).
A personal example comes from when I was serving a mission. When I arrived in South America, I was both excited and scared. I realized quickly that I had a long way to go before being able to fully understand and communicate. I could tell it was going to be a hard adjustment.
To my surprise and delight, Jennifer had planned ahead enough to get an aerogram mailed before I had even left the United States. Hers was the first letter I received. (If I recall correctly, it was waiting for me when I arrived in the country.) I still have that letter. Her words of encouragement and testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel still echo in my mind, still mean so much. I shared those words with my mom a few years ago when she was embarking on a three-year mission with my dad to a foreign language mission (speaking a language she didn’t know).
There are many other things I could share about Jennifer, but time and space won’t allow it for now. I look forward to letting her share more of herself at a later time. But suffice it to say that to me, Jennifer exemplifies so much of what Mormon womanhood is all about. She lives a life of confidence. She loves life, even as she acknowledges its challenges. She knows who she is. She knows that God loves her and that He is aware of her and involved in her life. She faces trials (including decades of chronic health struggles) and disappointments with faith and perseverance — and with a balanced blend of realism and humor. She has dedicated much of her time to serving others. I count it a blessing to call her my friend and a dear sister in the gospel.