Fairytales and Saving Lives – Jenni James

A few years back I was visiting my grandmother in Farmington, New Mexico. Her church was having a 24th of July pioneer barbecue party at a park nearby. My grandmother bought material and sewed little western dresses and bandannas for my daughters to dress up like pioneers. We were having a great time. (While we were there, I met Jenni. She had a little table and a big stack of books and she was signing copies. She had some cute little redheaded kids with her that I assumed were her children. I bought two of her books so that each of my daughters could have one. One was Hansel and Gretel and I think one was Cinderella. I felt something special about them. Jenni scribbled some words inside each one. Inside one, she had written, Believe in Magic.” 

 

My big turning point came in 2012 when the cops told me that I had a week to get out of my house or me and my seven kids were going to be dead. That was my turning point. We had been living in Utah but moved to Farmington and took whatever we could.

That was a make or break time for me as a writer. I realized that I had not seen a dime in royalties yet, and that if I was going to be a writer, I had to buckle down and start writing. I felt prompted that I needed to write.

During this time, we had to go on food stamps, and then I had to sell my vehicle. I wrote 13 books in the year of 2013. In January of 2014, a year and a half after I left my ex, we were able to make enough to pay the rent. We moved back to Utah. Then I was able to get a minivan. Then I met my now-husband. And now, I have 40 books, a screenplay, and I have a house in my own name. It is in my very own name! It is a cottage. It is like a dream come true. It is beautiful. And meanwhile, the whole time I am raising these children that are becoming wonderful people.

My oldest is on a mission.
My second is on a mission.
My third is getting ready for a mission.
I have seven children and my husband has three.
We are now going to adopt my cousin’s daughter because my cousin passed away.
And we just accepted a literacy mission to serve in Tonga. We will be there at least a year to eighteen months. We are part of a pilot program in the pacific isles teaching people how to read and write because they just don’t-the tongan people just don’t read or write books. Hopefully that when I am done, another family can come in and take over for me. Then we will come home

My own life just sounds so crazy to me. My first movie came out in February –I didn’t fund it but I wrote the screenplay it ended up winning an award already. I keep saying to myself, is this just my life because just pinch me! Because in 2012, I was scared for my life raising 7 children from ages 15 to 2. You can’t function like that. Having to raise teenagers and having to start over, and having to leave smart so that nothing bad happens. It was beyond the scariest thing I have ever done. But now, I speak at events all over the world. I was single with 7 kids and I wrote thirteen books in a whole year, so if I can do it, anyone can do it.

What kept me going was HOPE. And that I felt like this was something I was supposed to do. My parents thought I was going to make a big mistake going into writing. A lot of people told me I was stupid. A lot of people told me that I wouldn’t be able to do this. But I have been able to have all the mom-moments with my children. . .All those things that I would not have been able to do if I had gotten a regular job. We are able to bake cookies together, etc. I am a lot busier now that I have a full writing schedule but I am so grateful that I can be a mom. I am so grateful that I listened to the spirit, to that inner voice.

If I can help somebody through one of my books, from my characters, then it is all worth it. There have been letters that have been written to me. People whose lives have been saved. You have to find your purpose that will define you. I have to write with a purpose. My characters have overcome things. I have overcome things. There are days that I just want to give up and I feel horrible. I have plenty of those days. So, I allow myself one of those days but then on day two, we get up and we start working. We are allowed to have a bad day now and then but we don’t give up. Never give up and never surrender is my motto.

When I was dealing with a spouse who was emotionally abusive, I took the 12 step program and I learned how to break free from codependency. When I saw this, I was like WOW! I can go shopping on my own! I can go eat on my own. I can go to a movie on my own and sit anywhere I want without someone getting mad at me. Before, I would cry in a ball if anyone ever called me selfish. Every present someone gave me, I had to give it to someone else right away because I didn’t think I was worth it.

Going on this 12 step journey, I have been in a process of finding ME. But when I started it, my ex husband turned super abusive – it escalated really quickly and the cops were like get out get out!  I didn’t have much when I left but I had my children. Now my ex is in a much better place and has remarried and I encourage the kids to have a lot of time with their dad, because I know that is how THEY will heal. I know that he’s not going to be stupid and that I’m not going to be putting my kids in a dangerous situation. My kids need that closure to be able to find themselves. I can’t change how he is, I can just only let them know that he loves them in his own way–

But they have a dad now. A dad that teaches them how to fish and change tires and clean chicken pens and grow a garden and go camping and clean the barbecue grill. They have a dad that they can just sit with and chat to for hours and hours.
I was not even looking for a husband at the time. I was learning how to live on my own and actually loving it–I can order whatever I want at the restaurant. I can sit anywhere in the movie theater that I want. I can go to bed whenever I want without it being a fight. I matter. And I can go shopping for myself because I matter.

It feels like a whole new lease on life. It used to be the worst insult in the world for someone to call me selfish, But I am going to be a little selfish right now. I am learning to say no.

The first time I went out to eat on my own, I had this card for Red Lobster. I said to myself, Oh well fathers day is coming up or easter, or whatever thing I could think of so that I could tuck it away and save it for my husband. Then I had to talk to myself: He doesn’t know when I’m coming home. (Because I was at a conference.) So I literally pull into a Red Lobster parking lot and I lost it. Finally I was like, YOU WILL DO THIS! I grabbed a book–it might have been one of my own books because I had just gone to a convention, and I went into the restaurant just shaking. They asked me, ONE? I said, YEAH.

I sit down and don’t pay attention to anyone and I just start reading. Trying to ignore the fact that I am still shaking. I look up and everyone just starts staring at me.  People were whispering. I thought they were going to be like, awww, she’s all alone. But they were whispering, WHO is this? Is this some famous person? I thought they would see me as unlovable or someone selfish eating dinner by herself but instead it was like this crazy surreal thing, where even the waitress was trying to get information from me,– why are you in town? Are you on a video shoot, etc? I said, I’m an author.

They said, OHHHHH……Ahhh.

It was a lesson for me that how people see me is way different than how I think people see me.

I walked out with my head high. I walked to my minivan and sat and realized that an hour before I had been sobbing. I am actually writing a book series about ME – it is women’s fiction, called Revitalizing Jane. It is literally the six steps of overcoming codependence: Drowning. swimming, crawling, walking, running, soaring. . .The first book is already out. I have already started swimming. The character gets a little more self confident, a little at a time.

At the beginning of drowning she is literally looking in the mirror looking at herself and saying “you are beautiful.” It is her learning how to live again, with flashbacks. When you have PTSD, everything will just trigger all of a sudden. So the story is about her having flashbacks and then her proceeding forward. It is definitely the hardest thing I have ever written but it is so healing.

It completely cured me. I didn’t care what everyone else thinks. With codependency, you are bound by the perception of other people. You don’t want other people to think you are selfish. It is like an invisible noose. And you know what? Nobody even cares. Nobody even cares if you are in a restaurant by yourself, and if they do care, they are like, who IS that?

I have always been more afraid of Heavenly Father than anyone else. Maybe that is where my own personal story is leading up. If I feel very very strongly that he has asked me to do it, I will change any course of action to do what he asks me to do. I will make it happen even if I don’t know how it will happen. Shutting out the doubt even though I might have to hurt someone in the process. It is well worth anything. I know the blessings will be there if I just listen.

For me of course my listening comes from lots and lots of temple visits.  I know that Satan is not on the grounds. So, if I ever need to double and triple check, I check in the temple, and I receive that confirmation. Even buying this house.  Marrying Jason. There are too many things I would have been too afraid to try with out the Lord’s gentle YES. So that now, i’s not a question of how I will look to other people. I may look the fool to other people, but I know that my Father is proud of me.

When I was in high school and junior high I just KNEW the Lord wanted me on a mission. I had a whole mission fund by the time I graduated High School. I just knew I was going to be one of his daughters who went on a mission. I preached about it and bragged about it. And then I met my ex-husband and the lord was like, yes you will marry him. I used my mission fund to buy a wedding dress, a washer and dryer, and a couch. He was a return missionary. The Lord had kind of told me he was coming and that I’d be married in less than
a year.

I was not prepared.
Literally that was the first time I heard the Lord’s voice: JENNIFER
That was really really hard. Looking back, even after the divorce. I know there were reasons. I had tried 6 different kinds of birth control and I still ended up having seven kids. I was married at 18 and 19 when I had my oldest. I am now 41. I have had 15 miscarriages. I know that I had to have my children when I had them. My children know that I had to give up so much for them. I had to give my scholarship. On my 21st birthday I was 6 months pregnant and my brother went into the MTC.
I was SOOO jealous. But at the same time I was so grateful to be a mom.

The first three are all adults and the the others are at various stages but they are strong and they are happy and they are really good valiant kids. I am just so proud of them and so grateful that I listened to the spirit. My ex had his free agency and he chose what he chose and where he wanted to go. I did my part and got my kids here on this earth when they needed to be here.

If I know what the lord wants I will completely change.  I didn’t know I wouldn’t be able to have kids after 30. I needed to be stupid young. My youngest had no fear and he ran into lakes or rivers – and had i been 35 trying to chase after him, it would have been really hard. He has been to the ER more than any of my other kids. So now I have all these younger kids so I say to my oldest – you chase her for me. I have a lot of help now.

What encouragement would you give to someone who finds that it is necessary for them to leave their spouse? 

I have had friends who have had to leave their husbands and have had to run for their lives. We were just normal friends and then things went crazy. A lot of them ask, WHEN IS THIS GOING TO GET BETTER? The answer is, IT’S NOT GOING TO GET BETTER FOR A LONG TIME. But eventually it WILL get better. The worst is over. It will still be bumpy. But things usually get worse before they get better. When the  divorce papers are signed,  – things get way worse.

If there is a story in you that is not leaving you alone, don’t give up. Tell it. If you feel like there is something you are supposed to do, Do it. Of course you are going to fall, and you are going to have to re do it over and over again. But a little bit of failure is like one of those mazes,  If you make a wrong turn then you have to reset and you can say, well at least i know not to go that way again. I just feel – – – if you know you are supposed to be doing something, you have GOT to try…You can be the greatest piano player in the world, but if you never step up to the piano. . . nobody just jumps in the pool and wins the gold medal. You are going to lose. You have to lose along the way. The Olympians lost races, but they got up and tried again. It hurts and its hard and you have to sacrifice things, but it’s so worth it in the end.

It ‘s not going to get better for a long time. A lot of people were thinking my ex was a bad guy and he had to tell so many lies and said I cheated on him and had affairs. I had to put my head down and thought, I am not going to have any friends left after this, but I know who I am and I have my Heavenly Father.

I have already received 8 letters since this movie came out that lives have been saved. One girl wrote to me: I thought my world was done and I thought it was over and then someone led me to one of your books and I realized that if your characters can get through this, then so can I.

When I was writing about Rapunzel, the witch kidnaps her and turns her family into stone and she knows the prince is coming, she knew that he would be turned into stone as well. She just know that she’s killed her own family just by existing. So she becomes so depressed that she is going to commit suicide. In the first version of the movie he catches her right as she is about to commit suicide. . . then I realized that I have girls reading this and I had to rewrite from the beginning, several chapters back. I just had to dump it because in the end, SHE HAS TO SAVE HERSELF, because we don’t all have princes to rescue us. Instead she says, what am I doing?! And then she stops herself. I had to make HER wake up and not allow these girls to think that someone else is going to come in and save them. So I have learned that every word matters in a way that I never knew.

A girl wrote to me about the movie I just did. She said to me– My mother left me with an aunt and an uncle – I was fourteen and I felt so rejected by my family that I had ostracized myself from my family and I just knew that nobody loved me. I was suicidal and knew a few ways to do it and had planned it out including plan B if plan A didn’t work out. Then I read Not Cinderella’s Type. It is about a girl who has an awful family but then a boy –the prince–brings her into his family and is so sweet and kind to her. After reading this book, I realized that my family IS the prince. My family is amazing and I had turned away every gift they gave me. I convinced myself I was living in a horrible family, but I realized that I wasn’t and that my family was awesome.

THOSE are the kinds of stories I get every week. Stories that say – You saved my life by showing me how good it was – and I was like WOW!!! You never know who you are going to reach. At least twice a week, someone writes to me in an email, or they tell me their own Cinderella stories. . .It is so good to give people hope. Even my oldest daughter at home, she has written and directed her own play for childrens’ theater and she is actually being paid to do it.

We’ve all been drowning and we all have to come out of it. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have a story. It is fascinating. Everything starts out very small. Every word matters. You matter.  If you know you are supposed to be doing something, you have GOT to try. It is SO hard, but you will be SO thankful.

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