Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Thing About Mary

" seems to me that any memoirist must grow tired of reliving her life at some point" -Neylan McBaine* in the most recent Exponent-II magazine.

Yes, I think that's me. I think I am tired of reliving my life.

As I've run into blog readers and read emails this year as I've undertaken to write my Life Story there is a certain softness about the way I am approached--a I know you are hurting, because I read your blog sentiment. And this has often baffled me until my friend Ashley told me she had to remind herself numerous times that I am not in those places anymore. She said, "I had to keep telling myself, she's happily married with a household of children."

Before that it just didn't occur to me the complexity of sharing the past on a medium that is meant for the present. I am as happy, angst-filled, silly and passionate as I have always been, but in writing my stories of my past there has been a feeling of sadness on my blog. I have felt that in my life too, but not to the overwhelming extent being portrayed. Even still, I have learned more about myself in the past year of writing than I have ever before. And yes, some of it was disappointing, and some of it, a lot of it, was liberating. This undertaking has ripped blinders straight from my eyes and in getting over the stinging sensation I have found incredible healing.

I have thought a lot about Mary this year at the birth of Jesus, she "kept all these things and pondered them in her heart" and I wondered about what we keep and what we tell. I think my resolution is simple: if it's there, in my head, waiting for me when I wake up, I write. If it surfaces while I am picking up scattered toys in the Green Room, I write. If the stories wake me up in the middle of the night, I write. But the stories that stay surrounded in the safe confines of my heart, I do not write. And that's how I know.

There have been times in writing my Life Story I have wondered if it was too much. Too hard to carry on. And in those times I have been sent signs, emails, words of encouragement to carry me through the doubt. One time this summer, when I was particularly self-doubting, my friend Amy Hackworth and I went to a symposium with the great Laurel Thatcher Ulrich who spoke exclusively on the lack of stories we have collected from Mormon women. She attributed a false sense of humility as one of the reasons. Perhaps we think writing our life stories is too self-seeking, bordering narcissistic. We fail to see how the hard work we perform in writing will have much bigger pay offs than almost anything we do as women. Mostly, because we heal generations in the process. And afterward, during the Q and A portion, a woman got up to ask a question like this, "I want to write my story but there have been some terrible experiences that would scare someone to read, should I still write it?"

I thought about that question all summer long.

Don't we all have those experiences? Terrible, scary experiences? Hurt, pain, anger? Threatening ex-husbands?! If we gloss over those parts how will our children navigate those experiences when they have them? Are the deep wounds as important to flesh out as the times of joy? I say yes. But cautiously, and only when those stories asked to be plucked.

The thing about Mary I have decided is this: at some point, she did unlock her heart and tell her story otherwise how would we know the events--Gabriel, conception, angels, mangers, birth? How would we know she kept these things in her heart? And I wonder, when did she decide tell her story? Was it on the dusty roads of discipleship? In attempt to testify for her son's survival? After the wicked death and glorious resurrection? When did those stories tell Mary they were ready for the world?

And in another light, if we are Christ's people, then our lives belong to Him. Our stories belong to Him. And He has every right to tell us when to open our mouths, and when to keep our testimonies in the corners of our hearts.

I started my Life Story in January. My intention was to write up until I started this blog. I intend to finish it by the end of the year. I only have a few more posts left. And even though I am tired of writing, I wonder how it will feel when I write that last line on the last post. I think it might feel pretty good.

So, I am proposing to myself a marathon Life Story--to the finish--starting the day after Christmas and ending on New Years Eve. If you have a spare second in your prayers will you add me in there? I could use all the encouragement I can get. As some of you might know, goal keeping is a gigantic weak spot of mine. But I need to write about dating Chup (OH MAN), elopement, marriage, infertility, creeping body images issues. Big stuff, I wouldn't want to miss it no matter how tired I am.

It's been my secret hope for awhile that I can use my experiences this year to support other women in writing their own Life Story--and encouraging them to keep writing until the end. I think that might be my calling. Wouldn't it be fantastic if the world was filled with stories of women? Never before have we seen this happen, in all the history of the world.

I smell a revolution!

*Neylan, a friend and fellow writer, curates the Mormon Women Project. This summer she authored one of the most buzzed about articles in Mormon circles this year, To Do the Business of the Church: A Cooperative Paradigm for Examining Gendered Participation Within Church Organizational Structure very much worth a read!

Speaking of writing our stories...
The Exponent-II (as quoted above, edited by Neylan and the MWP). It's full of narratives and artwork about women's stories well-worth your Christmas vacation time. You can read the entire issue online for free (or order a copy, suggested) here. If you like to be profoundly inspired by skilled writing and encouraged to write your own narrative, I highly recommend Brittney Carman's, Sometimes the Heart. Inspiring.


McEngland like the McCountry said...

Praying you up and down, Girl! Sending you love and prayers. You are brave and wonderful. Thank you for digging in and sharing your story.

Esther said...

As I tackle motherhood, I find myself wishing my grandmothers, great grandmothers and so on had written about how they disciplined, how they taught their children, how they dealt with adding another child to their family, starting school. Did they suffer with these same demons? Did they feel it was important to let chores go, just to snuggle? I wish I had their stories of daily life. I already have the amazing ones- I wish I could hear about them getting through a regular day.

tana50 said...

You are in my prayers. I am LDS but not a church goer anymore. I was given more than I could handle when my kids were young. I burnt out. But I see the younger women in the church so much different than when I was young. We didn't rock the boat. We were shown how women asking questions or demanding answers were punished "with love and for their eternal souls" but it sure didn't seem that way. I love you younger women going forward in love and asking the church to listen. Depending on if you are listened to, I may even come back.

Tori said...

I've struggled with the "keep and ponder" versus share over the years and come back to something that happened when I was in Young Women's. My sister attempted suicide. The YW president found out, not because my family told her, but because her husband was the stake president. She announced what had happened in Young Women's, inviting the YW of the ward to pray for my sister.

No, not ideal. But my mother had three other mothers in the ward, who had heard through this grapevine what my mother hoped to keep secret, approach her, hug her, and share that their daughters had struggled with similar issues. That is support she would not have received by keeping and pondering.

Sharing our stories makes us vulnerable, but to be human is to be vulnerable and pretending to be superhuman serves no one...not even ourselves.

God bless you in your storytelling mission.

Lisa B. said...

Telling the stories is so, so, so important. First, so we can own our own stories--how else will we be able to act with all the ability that God gave us? and second, to give courage to others. You are doing both, it's immensely moving to me, at least, and I see that same response in others. Carry on, C. Jane! you are a Mormon marve.

C. Jane said...

All goosebumpy with these comments. Thank you sisters!

Lisa B. said...


(dang it.)

Mary-Rose said...

In my busy wife-mom-grandma-employee life, it's hard to take time for reflection, but it's rewarding when I do. I'm not going to set a goal (since I don't do goals well, either) but I will reflect on which stories I need to tell. Thank-you for the inspiration. Merry Christmas!

Sunny said...

CJane, Your stories are needed and my prayers these next days will be yours. At times I have written the stories that rise up in me, truer than true, alive and never to be forgotten. What has been unexpected is the going back sometime later and reading those same stories from a new place. At times I do not recognize myself, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. Might my stories help those who come later? Quite possibly. But they will also guide and inform the many versions of myself that will surely rise up and fade away throughout my lifetime.

Your voice is powerful in the best of ways. Keep writing. And thank you for sharing Brittney Carman’s essay. Never has she written a line that failed to make my heart burst.

Vesuvius At Home said...

One of my favorite Tori Amos songs says "...there's a new commandment. The true Divine Creator wants a velvet revolution". I can't get this idea out of my head this week, and it applies to so much: to current events, to you Mormon feminists and your wonderful pants-wearing ways, and yes, to women telling our stories.

carla thorup said...

Neylan's article will forever change my life. I still get emotional remembering meeting her at your house.

You are a good woman, C Jane. Carry on.

Michelly said...

I have really loved reading your life story. Reading about your divorce was particularly difficult considering the circumstances surrounding your situation mirrored mine. It was very cathartic. Keep writing.

Townhouse Towny said...

Just wanted to say please, please give those portions of your life the time they deserve. Sure you may want to accomplish your goal, but don't be a slave to your deadline. Quality over deadline, since you're your own boss after all.

I've really enjoyed your posts this year, and don't mind the slow pace at all - it must be a lot of emotional exercise!!

Vanessa Brown said...

Yes I will add you in! For myself I worry about writing my life stories because I feel they will hurt people in my life that I am working on building new relationships with. How do you overcome that I wonder? Because I don't know if I would ever want to post them, but I want to write them down for my girls. And their girls. Oh and maybe a boy or two here or there ;)

Stephanie said...

Thank you for sharing your life story. I have really enjoyed all of it, the good and the bad. I truly believe there is power in sharing stories. Perhaps I should be better in sharing mine. I have the gift of being a listener, so I don't tend to share my experiences a lot. I don't write often, though I hope the stories I share with people one on one are helpful to them. Keep on using your wonderful gift of writing to share your story!

Rachael said...

After reading yours, Courtney, I have started mine! I have hesitated posting it on my blog but I think that might change. This post definitely encouraged me to share and when I get the nerve, I'll do just that. Thanks!

turleybenson said...

There is a WONDERFUL poem written by a BYU professor called "Mary keeps all these things." It is my favorite poem, and I love reading it this time of year in particular.

(Forgive me for linking to my blog, but I can't find it anywhere else online.)

This Girl loves to Talk said...

I've enjoyed your life story. I loved your 5 loves one and wanted to do similiar and asked on facebook how you deal with the fallout..

as several above have stated, women sometimes dont want to write these types of stories for fear of offending. I did write the story of my five loves after you said 'write on!' but for personal and not to share on blog

perhaps you could start the revolution of a anonymous place for us to write these things so we can be wimps and not take responsibility for hurting peoples feelings long after the fact and as someone stated esp when you are trying to move forward with someone we feel its not helpful to rehash the past... obviously I'm not as brave as you!!

Tara said...

I, for one, am very grateful that you were brave enough and willing enough to share your story. I can only imagine how many women have been helped by seeing some part of themselves in some part of your story.

Amy said...

thank you for this post. I have been considering writing a lot of my life story lately, and only recently realized what a gift this might be for my daughter, and maybe for her daughters and her daughter's daughters. I have a list of all the things I want to tell her someday. You've inspired me to write them down, instead. Thank you.

~Love Lis said...

I don't know much about the pain and suffering that you have been through. I imagine that people go through it all the time and often, we just don't know. I have been going through the hardest time of my life and maybe I should not have kept it so close to my heart. I have learned that it is okay to ask for help, especially pray for it. Your story gives me hope because I am going through it. I only know the CJane who is confident and happy not one who has gone through what may be similar to me. Above all, it's important to remember that the Savior has walked where all of us are walking now.

Bradford said...

I can't wait to read the rest of your life story. I started reading your blog when I was pregnant with my daughter. I would bring my iPad with me to the hospital & drown out the poking & prodding with your blog posts. I've started writing my life story in a journal for my daughter.

Delirious said...

Just my two cents, but why do you need to be so hard on yourself? Why does it have to be done by the end of the year? You asked that we pray for you to keep your goal. I would pray that you relax and take it as you can, and finish when you can so that you can enjoy the process. :)

Sarah Jane said...

I was just driving home from a haircut thinking about all the things I need to do tonight- help my son practice violin, clean the house for a work party tomorrow morning, write a few Christmas/thank you cards, do laundry and read CJane. Your blog posts are insightful and helpful and funny and real. I'm so glad to be able to read what you write. So thanks for writing! Merry, merry Christmas and I look forward to the last, big week and will keep you in my prayers.
Sarah Jane

amandala said...

Thank you for writing your life story. I've been reading your blog for 4 years. I've always been a strong independent woman. I've traveled the world and have a degree in woman's studies. I never thought I'd be in the position I am now... Escaping an abusive relationship and living at my grandmothers with my 3 month old daughter. Your story helps me find strength that one day I will feel strong and happy again. Keep up the writing. :)

Alexis said...

I appreciate your blog and your life stories. So many times, I read your stories and think about something in my younger years that felt similar. Without you sharing your stories, other women could feel alone and unsupported.

It is time for women to share their stories and write their histories. It is like a sisterhood...a big hug....and one day, it will be stories cherished by our great great grandchildren.

You have such a nice writing style. I hope you find the courage and strength to share your stories and continue sharing them past January 1.

Rock on sister!!

Andrea Holley said...

I love this. Thank you. Still working on the courage to write my own story. I agree that Neylan is wonderful and I am happy to call her one of my friends!

Betina said...

I loved that article, and I love the idea of writing a life story.

Some of it is so much pain.

And hard to remember the joy when the memories of the pain come so forcefully.

Holly Decker said...

i like it. i liked your last post, too. i keep trying to stop myself from reading your blog, but doggone it, it makes me think and i like it. carry on sister. carry on. can't wait to read the rest of your life :)

mascanlon said...

YOu always surprise me in a good way. yes, lets tell the painful stories that will allow our daughters to hope, grow and be happy even after they stumble.

M cubed said...

This is the Cjane that I love .

K. said...

Thanks for sharing everything you have so far. I will have a prayer for you in my heart to finish, and I think when you finish, you will realize that you have only just begun. Hang in there. I wish I had some writings from my grandmothers and mother.

ClaireM said...

I love Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and definately agree that we need more woman's history and stories.

Amy said...

I struggle to agree that anything we read in the bible or anywhere about Christ's birth and life was Mary's version of the story. Scripture in general is written by men or masculine energy and actually written long after the event actually occurred. I personally doubt that much we read is based in actual truth.

I believe that Mary's life was far from the glorified peaceful life that is portrayed in scripture, how could it have been in those times? Women were property owned by their fathers and then the men they were betrothed to at a young young age.
I would love to hear HER version. I think it could change the world and how we view prophets, priests, holy 'men' and religion in general.
Religion is not loving for me. None of it.

And how are women (or anyone for that matter) to become empowered if we still view our lives in Christ's hands, with him in charge of our words, our thoughts and our stories? I like to believe I am the only one in charge of that.
I think we have got his life and what he came to do wrong.
One of my favorite quotes of all time:
“I want Jesus to come back and say 'THATS NOT WHAT I MEANT'"
― Margaret Cho

He did not come here to save us, he came here to show us it can be done, to show us how to remember to remember our worth in a dense, heavy world where we are separated from the knowledge of who we really are on a soul level. He did not come to be worshipped or prayed to or esteemed above us or better than with us needing him in order to return to God. We are all welcome back with God whenever, we do not need anyone else to save us for that to happen. How could he be a loving God otherwise? Rules, regulations and requirements are based in control and fear. For me, God does not work from wrath, anger, rules, vengeance or jealousy (to be clear, scriptures portrays him using those words - I'm not misunderstanding anything).

I appreciate your quest to find truth. I am on my own, and none of what the church teaches is truth for me, that is why I left.
How could it be with scripture like D&C 132? Some of the most hurtful words I've ever read as a woman. I cannot imagine what Emma must have been feeling as she was spiritually threatened with those words.

It is time for change. And that does not just mean wearing pants to show men we are like them or equal. I don't want to be equal to a man, I want to remember why it is great to be a woman. And I do not mean great to be able to bear children and clean a house. I want to remember that I do not need a prophet to guide my course, I control that steering wheel, all of the answers I need are already inside of me.

Women/feminine energy will bring love back to a planet mired in war, anger and aggression. The last thing I want is to be the same as the masculine energy that created that environment in the first place.
Thank you for putting this out there C Jane. There is a revolution coming. I believe it will be/look different than anything we have been taught, and I for one will welcome it.

Homa said...

Since I only know you via the internet, I never confused where you are now with the parts of your life you presented. It did seem that you struggle to tell the story of your first marriage and since then, your posts seem to flow more easily. I admire what you are doing both on your blog and with your family. I can't wait to read the rest of your story.

Whimcees said...


I look forward to reading the good stuff of you and Chup - I have been waiting - knowing that at the end of the pain there is happiness for you. Wishing you a good weekend.


Barbara Diane

jenny said...

I've decided that this will be my last time reading C Jane. You have a beautiful spirit and a talent for writing but there is opposition in all things are greatest talents can be our downfall. I think blogging is a wonderful community, journaling, therapeutic. Option for many women but the downfall is that it can make us self centered. While I imagine all this self discovery has been therapeutic and I agree that more women should write their stories I think you would find more peace getting out of your life, your stories and your past. My Bishop's wife had a much followed blog that she started while he was in medical school. It gave her a release and a community but when he was called as Bishop she decided it was time to say goodbye to her virtual community and start serving her actual community. I know this blog hasgiven you a voice and an outlet nut why dont you spend more time with your beautiful children, get out and serve all those beautiful women who you think will judge you in pants. I live out of state and we don't even blink at the sight if pants, we stand with open arms to anyone wanting to embrace the love of the gospel. I would think that you should want this blog to be a place where women can go to see an example of light and joy not a women who is airing her baggage and issues when she has had everything so many are searching for: a loving family, a supportive husband, children, a relationship with a loving Heavenly Father, a knowledge of the everlasting Aronement, a healthy body, and you have seen miracles In your life and in those around you and you have so many who love you. Focus on that and spend less time and in your virtual ME land whining and creating drama which could plant seeds of doubt in others. I'm off to enjoy my kids during their Christmas break and I think you would feel more joy and peace serving them, living up your husband and enjoying your friends then posting your issues and drama, that is what I will pray for is that you will spend more time serving those you love. That is true self discovery (and a my h more uplifting read).

Martha said...

GOOD STUFF as always. it's good to have you back. you have definitely inspired me to write my story! go cjane!

Maddy said...

Its funny, I am not mormon, I am not american, and I don't have my own family yet, but I still always come and read your posts, I find them very inspiring, often funny, and, just cool.
Why shouldn't you have a voice?
I have also really loved your life story posts!xo

Jessi said...

Dear CJane,

From one writer to another, you are so incredibly talented. And from one record-keeper to another, never stop writing your life story!! And from one coward to one courageous woman, I have so much to learn from you. I'll admit that I don't agree with everything you have written on your blog, but I still find myself rooting for you and admiring your championing for women. I think your Heavenly Father is proud of you for all your efforts. I certainly am.

When I first started blogging, I asked some of my blogging friends how to deal with some negative comments I had gotten. They wisely advised me to just leave them be, because other readers always come to your defense at the end of the day. So here I go, coming to your defense!!

As far as Jenny goes, I think she needs to understand that the whole point of public blogging is to get our stories out there in hopes that it connects us to other people. Maybe even inspire them a little. That's the amazing thing about people. We're all ordinary, yet we're all inspiring. What a blessing the blogging community is; we can so easily be inspired by others and can so easily tell our stories, show our vulnerability, and touch the hearts of women who feel alone in their trials because people are too afraid to talk about going through them even though we are all going through them. The whole point of the story of our lives is to share them so that we can learn from each other and connect our hearts to one another.

Also, no disrespect to her, but Jenny must not realize that a blog only shows about 15% of someone's life. Who is anyone to assume you don't spend time with your children or serve your "non-virtual" community?? I think it's safe to assume that you do, based on the character you portray of yourself on your blog. Do people seriously picture bloggers just sitting at their computers with glazed-over eyes all day, neglecting anything that would bring them back to reality?? When it comes to blogging, you CAN serve two masters: the virtual community AND the real one. You don't have to pick one or the other (I mean, duh. Does that even need to be explained?).

Also, just because you have a beautiful life that a lot of women dream of doesn't mean your feelings aren't real. I am an advocate of feelings and fully support you in talking yours out, no matter what your platform is. Just know that there are not as many Jennys out there as people who support you and are so grateful for all you are and for your genuineness.

Good for you for writing, for having opinions, for having a backbone, and for not letting the Jennys out there stop you. And good for you for not being scared of getting real about your life instead of pretending it's perfect, the way the Jennys of the world must to do.

Kimberlee said...

Who the hell is Jenny?! Gross.

Laurie said...

@ Jessi

Thank you. Amen and Amen.

Sara Ward said...

Judge on, Jenneh! Judge on!

Natasha said...

Praying for you as you work to achieve your goal C. Jane. You have inspired me to think about my own faith, and especially my own personal wrestling with it, which has led, for me, to a deeper commitment to God. Thank you for being vulnerable and showing us that it's okay to question.

Write on sister, encouraging us all in living this thing called "life."

N said...

I am praying for you and sending lots of encouragement. Your 'Life Story' posts have stuck with me like a cloak of guidance, I've thought about them on the drive to work. They've crept up on me while I was washing dishes or cooking dinner. They've impacted me tremendously and invoked a desire in me to reflect on my own life. I am so inspired by your courage.

Sarah said...

People talk about loving, supporting communities of women. I don't entirely buy it. I've read posts on some sites and they say things like, "You are not a feminist if you don't subscribe to A, B, and C." It seems like there is love for people that say they've always struggled with this or that about mormonism, or that they've left the church, or I was the only one who wore pants to my ward.

Where's the love for Miss Jenny here? Maybe that took some courage for her to pipe in. Granted, her tone is assuming. If she is only a blog reader, she is not well acquainted with the details of service or family time versus writing/blog time. However, there are some valid discussion points, And again, where's the love?

I'm saying this because I am somewhat feminist and anti-feminist at the same time. I don't exactly know who I am or where I belong sometimes. It's just a trick sometimes, this path of life. I sure don't always see things the same as another, but, even if someone is assuming or out of place, there can still be support. I think we all crave healing and love and understanding. When we are generous with others, even if it doesn't feel deserved, I just don't think we'll regret it.

Shelly Cunningham said...

You've already inspired me to write my life story. I did it in three parts (the first, the second and the third decades) as I just turned thirty this year.
I literally gritted my teeth and wrote it ALL. I bared my soul, knowing judgment would come. And it did. But I'm okay. I wrote my truth. And it felt so good.
Thank you for the inspiration.

anna said...

Thank-you Thank-you Thank-you for sharing your stories. I wish more women would. I wish I could. (Right now I'm at a pondering stage). I'm an LDS woman whose self-image and worth have been devastated by pornography. I've been looking for support within the LDS community for over a year without much luck. Strangely a million articles exist telling you what to do to help support your spouse overcome porn addictions, but not much for the wife who loves her husband who doesn't seem to have any interest in giving up a guilty pleasure. Although our stories are not the same (and really, no one's stories ever would be) I feel like reading through your experiences has given me a chance to not feel so alone. Thank-you for your courage. Thank-you for always encouraging trust and hope in our Savior. Thank-you for setting an example for women to share stories that are hard.