fbpx

All Posts by Jessica Allen

About the Author

Jessica is a writer, musician, entrepreneur, wife, and mom. Jessica's mission is to write "real" - shining light into the dark places of the tough stuff we all experience. She and her husband Jack live in Houston, Texas and have weathered the storms of grief, infant loss, adoption, and a marriage that almost fell apart. Jessica and Jack have 4 children, LJ in heaven, Grace, Jackson, and brand new baby Elisha.

Joy Comes in the Mourning book cover
Oct 09

Happy 10th birthday, LJ

By Jessica Allen | Grief

I’ve been walking around all day with a lump in my throat that’ll undoubtedly burst at the first “how are you?”

Our first son was born and died in October.  Tomorrow (today, by the time I post this on the blog) is his 10th birthday.

There’s something about this double digit milestone, a decade, that feels unbelievable.  Meaning, I actually cannot believe this much time has passed, and even more, I cannot believe I have continued to find my way in the world.   

There is so much to say.  So much I could fill a book.

So I did.  I wrote a book. 

This book has been pursuing me patiently and quietly, mostly standing at a distance “pssst”-ing me every once in awhile.  It was pretty easy to shrug off, what with a business to run, and a family, and a ministry, and saving a marriage, and then having a new baby.  It listened to my excuses and respectfully retreated a few paces, leaving me to my life and all the pursuits that captivate my attention.

Within the past six months, however, it crept closer and closer until it finally wrapped its arms around me and whispered in my ear, “it’s time.” 

So I soaked in the summer sunshine in a beautiful resort pool on my birthday and cried into my cocktail.  I had run out of excuses.  And truthfully, I had run out of steam. 

It is exhausting to keep running away from something you know you are supposed to be doing.   Whether it’s God, or a ministry, or mending a relationship, at some point you will collapse from the sheer weariness of stubborn disobedience and surrender to its persistent voice.   

This book is a ten-year reflection of grief, love, faith, and every real and raw step of the path my life has taken since the birth and death of our son.  I did not hold anything back.  Once I started writing, it tumbled out head over heels.  It felt easy and impossible to write all at the same time.  It stretched me to articulate some thoughts that until now have lived in my body as wordless feelings – actual physical feelings – that twinge my sides and hurt my throat and sting my eyes.  I had to give them words, which gave them life, and that was scary.  Once they’re real you have to reckon with them. 

I wrote the book I wish I had when LJ died - the voice I needed in the darkest abysses of grief.  I needed to know what to expect, how to get through it, and how to begin to really live again. 

Through the past 10 years, I have learned what to expect because we experienced it all in real life.  I have learned how to get through it because we did, bruised but breathing.  And I have learned how to live again because, by the grace of God and the love of our amazing village, I just put one clumsy foot in front of the other until that stumble turned into a walk.  Eventually the walk became familiar enough that I could lift my eyes and see the incredible world around me again.

I can’t wait to share the whole book and its story with you.  It releases December 1 everywhere you like to buy books and I promise you’ll be the first to know the updates, announcements, and special surprises in store as we send this little book into the world. 

In the meantime, please say a little prayer today for LJ, and wish him a happy birthday.  Can you imagine the celebration lavished upon us in heaven?  Down here today, we’re taking the kids for cupcakes in Grace Garden, and then meeting as a family simply to be together after all the kids’ nighttime ball games.  I’m surprising them with a bound copy of the manuscript each.  They have absolutely no idea I wrote the book, and I can’t wait to give them this gift.  I didn’t tell anyone, actually, for some very intentional reasons, but that’s a different story for a different day.

I’ve found healing through writing, that’s not news to anyone here.  But this stuff is still so hard sometimes.  I feel sad, and angry, and cheated, that our 10th birthday party is missing the guest of honor.  I can be faithful and hopeful and trusting and gratefully honor God with my life and still want to stomp my foot and cry “foul.” 

Grief never really gets easier.  It just gets different.  Thanks for loving me, supporting our family, and choosing to lean into the hard stuff.  It doesn’t feel quite so lonely when we face it together. 

HP,

J

10 things to say instead of picking a fight | relationship fights
Sep 26

Relationship fights: 10 things to say instead

By Jessica Allen | Marriage

There are so many things I wish I did better when it comes to how to handle relationship fights.  Particularly in my marriage and as a parent.  It's so much easier and selfishly gratifying in the moment to fly off the handle and say *exactly* what I think my husband or my children need to hear.  

That is rarely (never?) the right solution.  And I definitely never feel better after I snap.

How many times have I let my emotions, fatigue, frustration, or insecurity get the better of me and shot my mouth off instead of trying to solve the problem while adding value to the relationship?

Relationship fights in our marriage (and being a naggy parent) are always a bad-math sum of anger and ego.  We both tend to step back into all our old crappy communication patterns.  He's pushy.  I'm a martyr.  In the heat of the moment, neither one of us listen or really care about the other person's feelings.  We end up saying things we regret and making a lingering mess out of what could have been a simple, intentional, solution-focused conversation.    

Related: Curb your ego for a happier marriage

So if I can keep my adrenaline at bay for even 5 hot seconds when a misunderstanding arises, here are 10 things that are better to say than picking those relationship fights.  

10. It hurts my feelings when you say or do _______.

Just address the ONE thing, right then and there, or as soon as possible after it happened.  Save the other 27 grievances for a time you're not steaming out the ears.

9. I need 5 minutes to regroup before we continue this conversation.

Splash your face with water, take a walk around the block, or eat a cookie.  If you feel backed into a proverbial corner, pause to collect your thoughts before you say something you'll regret.

8. I felt disrespected (or embarrassed/etc.) when you ______.

This is a big one for me.  Don't let it build.  It is our job to teach people how to treat us.  Even and especially our spouses.

7. Could we please find a time today to talk about something important?

This is our family's big cue phrase to keep relationship fights at bay.  It lets the other person know we are taking a risk by saying something hard.  Setting the stage for a healthy conversation always goes better for us than nuking the other one with a giant nag or complaint clear out of the blue.  

6. Next time, can you _____ instead?

Use this the next time you are ready to say "you ALWAYS" or "you NEVER."  If I have to unball one more set of long inside-out stinky baseball socks in my laundry I am going to lose my mind.  "Next time can you please unroll these before you put them in the hamper?  It helps me so much and makes me feel like you care."  This is a good strategy for children too.  I don't feel like a naggy wife or mom when I make a request.

5. I'm frustrated.  Can you please help me?

I shut down when I'm frustrated and it's easier to bang cabinets shut and heave giant sighs instead of ask for help.  My family cannot read minds.  And clearly they do not hear the slamming or don't care.  So a simple request lets them know I need them to get off the couch and lend a hand. 

4. Can we please set screentime guidelines for dinner?

Solve the problem before it becomes a problem.  And it's never the kids that have the problem!!!  It's so easy to slide back into distractions at the dinner table.  We regroup when we need to in order to get the devices off and away from that sacred space.  I'm a better wife and mom when I don't feel like I'm begging for my family's attention.  

3. I have a budget question when you have a minute.

ALWAYS better than "why did you buy that?????!!!!!"  Money questions can feel accusatory to me, no matter the context, so this is another area where it helps to have a phrase cue that we need to talk about it.  I'm not as defensive that way and the conversation always goes a little smoother.  

2. Can I borrow you for 30 uninterrupted minutes tonight?

Doesn't matter what you do, but make it worth their time. 😉

Variation on #2: I feel disconnected/lonely.

Chances are, if you've gotten into the habit of curbing screen time and borrowing each other for 30 minutes on the regular, you won't have to say this one a lot.  But in the busy chaos of family life, it happens.  We work across the kitchen table from each other every day and even then I still feel lonely sometimes.  That's when it's time to take a walk together, or unplug for 15 minutes to actually look at each other's faces.  Dial into each other's love languages and you'll only need a few minutes to connect with each other in a meaningful way.

1. Have I done something to upset you?

Ahh, the dance of the eggshells.  Nobody's good at it.  Just gird up your loins and ask the question.  Fair warning: if you are willing to ask the question, be willing to hear (and have a real conversation about) their answer.  Master the art listening... and the art of the apology.

The art of the apology

It's always good to review!  A great apology combines acknowledgement, remorse, and a request for forgiveness. 

I'm sorry (remorse) I  _____ (acknowledge the thing you said or did that hurt them).  Can you please forgive me? (request forgiveness)

A great apology does not include an expectation that the other person will instantly feel better, stop being angry, or trust you again.  Every person is entitled to their own real feelings.  Just because you were ready to apologize doesn't mean they have to be ready to be happy just so you don't feel uncomfortable anymore.  It does put the ball in their court to forgive you, which will ultimately help them feel better faster.  Forgiveness rocks.  Everybody wins. 

Things That Are Not Real Apologies

  • Sorry. (Ugh.  May as well roll your eyes when you say it.)
  • I'm sorry if I made you feel ____. (deflecting responsibility)
  • I'm sorry you ______ (making it their fault for being upset)
  • I'm sorry. (and I'm waiting for you to quit being mad at me)

Nobody feels better when they pick a relationship fight.  Send your ego walking, choose better words, and bring harmony into the "hard stuff."

HP,

J

10 things to say instead of picking a fight | relationship fights
what grief looks like 10 years later | dark path with light | black and white photo of light at the end of the tunnel
Sep 21

What grief looks like 10 years later

By Jessica Allen | Grief

I ran across one of the most accurate graphics this week that I've ever seen.  This is exactly true for the season immediately following a loss, and interestingly it is still what my grief looks like 10 years later.  The only difference now is that the top part of the iceberg is a little smaller.  The part under the water is just as big.  Even bigger, maybe, as layers of "what I've learned" have built up over time.   

grief graphic | grief you see | grief that is never talked about | iceberg photo | grief iceberg

Seriously.  Credit to the anonymous wise people who photographed and created this.  Sources unknown.

Depending on which text you reference, there are either 5, 7, or 10 stages of grief.  Navigating the basic 5 just about killed me, ironically.  So maybe breaking it down into 7 or 10 sub-stages would have been easier.  Regardless, there are true distinctive shifts in the grieving process.  And it does help to know that what you are experiencing is normal.  It also helps to know what’s coming on the horizon.    

The only thing harder than losing someone you love is making it through the grieving process that follows.  There's a reason the giant part of the iceberg is the grief nobody talks about.  It's ugly and unpleasant.  I wish we would talk about it more though, because it's universal, and I think we'd feel less alone if we knew someone else was in the same place too.

Any crisis can set you on the grief track: loss, uncertainty, the end of a relationship, career changes, or any other major life curve ball.  I venture to guess that most people we meet out in the world are grieving something.  (That's why it's important to just be nice to people.  We're all hurting.)

LJ's 10th birthday is approaching.  It has pressed me to revisit the 5 stages of grief exactly as I experienced them when he died: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  In reality, each of those 5 stages included their own sub-stages like shock, loneliness, crisis of faith, finding community, and peace-making.  (These are my own designations, not clinical by any means.)  

Looking back on how we navigated death, mourning, faith, and finding joy through the grieving process has been oddly encouraging.  We've come a long way and I'm really... proud?... of the hard work we did to learn and grow through it.  It's a lifelong process so there's still wisdom to be gained as we go.     

My life is more rich and full than I could have ever imagined because I have chosen to wrestle with all these things.  I rumble with them certainly in spite of my own stubborn desire to avoid the painful stretch of change and growth.  But grieving transforms you, whether you agree to it or not.  I like to think we have the choice whether it transforms us for better or for worse.  When we take the time to really lean into the process, grief becomes a powerfully effective teacher.

Related: How grief changes us for good

In the days and weeks after we lost our baby boy, I read every book I could get my hands on to help me understand why I hurt so much.  Even more, I was looking for the secret for how to feel better.  I found short booklets, long narratives, scientific approaches, spiritual perspectives, practical knowledge, and a beautiful grief devotional I still use.  Each of these books were helpful in their own ways.  Yet what I really needed most was someone to say “this is how it was for me.” 

I desperately sought out stories of how grief looked in real life, because I was living it in real life.  It was not a hypothetical loss in a theoretical classroom that could be navigated with professional terminology on a prescribed timeline.  My pain was ready to pull me under.  I needed to know that another real person with real grief over loss just like mine made it through to the other side. 

I realize now that there really isn’t an "other side."  Rather, real people with real grief simply find a path moving forward and choose to walk it one step at a time.  Sometimes you can go quickly, sometimes it’s slow, and sometimes you have to sit down and rest.  Pausing and resting, or even going in reverse for awhile, is okay.  Quitting is not.  As long as you keep going, there is light to be found along the way.  

I undoubtedly made things messier in the process.  I still get lost in the weeds and have to get myself back on the path.  But the further I walk, the better my bearings have become.  And the more tools I've added to my pack.  Tools like coping skills, compassion, empathy, forgiveness, community, self-expression, awareness of myself and other people, and the humility and willingness to ask for help.  

Heart work = HARD WORK but it's work that must be done. 

I know this got real dark real fast here on the ol' HP.  But matters of the heart are equal parts dark and sweet.  And I have found that the darker the water in which you're willing to swim, the sweeter it is on the shore.

So I'm shining my light down the path today for every heart "walking through it."  Come out of the weeds when you're ready and stay the course.  The world needs you here. 

HP,

J         


what grief looks like 10 years later | kaleidoscope teal and purple
Seasons change and so do I | fall leaves | changing seasons in life | seasons of life change
Sep 10

Seasons change – and so do I

By Jessica Allen | Faith , Marriage

It’s Texas, and it’s still 100 degrees out, with no end in sight.  I love summer, and pool weather, and the fun and excitement and relaxation it holds.  Yet seasons change, and I posted on social recently that September can keep its pumpkin spice… I’ll take root beer floats in my swimsuit any day. 

But fall is coming.  I can see it.

I can actually see it, in the way the afternoon sun looks a little different, and the sky is bluer than blue.  LJ October blue. 

This is my favorite time of year, when the seasons change, because there’s electric energy in the air.  Maybe it’s back to school, or the return of football, or that we’re all finally ready to start pulling new colors out of our closets.  Perhaps it’s the familiarity of the routine we settle into as a family, or the excitement of Saturdays together at the baseball parks. 

This season is different

This year, especially, I think it’s the anticipation of our 10th October missing our son that’s stirring my spirit, setting me up for a new season of reflection and growth.  There’s something about these big milestones – and all the emotion they bring - that makes my chest feel heavy.    

Whether it’s the turning of the earth or the shifting of my life, when seasons change it's promise that we’re still here, still evolving, and still have something to offer the world.  This is the part of change I can get on board with. 

As we usher each new season in, there’s opportunity to learn through grooming, to exhale in rest, and to expand with growth. 

Seasons change to groom you for something greater

In my experience, grooming seasons tend to happen simultaneously with or directly following a big setback or trauma.  Something that is often out of our control, or a seemingly-impossible circumstance thrust upon us against our will.  My specific setbacks were death and the unraveling of our marriage.  The months that followed each trauma were excruciatingly painful seasons of massive pruning, in uniquely different yet similar ways.  

Life after death 

This grooming season carved away everything I thought I knew about God, my own faith, and my vision for my own purpose in the world.  (That is a whole separate book.  Hold tight.) 

In the meantime, the short version is that my faith grew up stronger and thicker than before, my understanding of God deepened, and my trust in His mercy abounds.  This season of change was grooming at its finest and most rewarding.

Life after marriage-death

This was (and in many ways, still is) a season in which Jack and I both experienced the cutting away of parts of ourselves that were wilted or dead.  We slashed away habits that no longer served us.  He and I both changed behaviors holding us back from the faith and relationships and life we were meant for.  We opened our eyes to beliefs we thought were true but turned out to be wrong.  And we learned about betrayal from people we thought we could trust.  Because we wanted to heal and be whole, better than we were before, there was no room for any more weeds or thorns between us.  Arrogance, selfishness, dishonesty, fear… we dug them all up and cut them at the root. 

Grooming seasons of change are full of humbling setbacks and painful self-discovery.   They also, inconveniently, require embarrassing confessions to ourselves and others.  The first step is admitting you have a problem, yes?

Grooming seasons press on us until we give way

Grooming is more “letting go” than anything else.  A willingness to release things we don’t need anymore.  I believe this is God’s way of making us just uncomfortable enough to finally be willing to drop our grip of what we think is best in favor of what He knows is best.  Not surprisingly, the less junk we hold onto, the more clearly we can see His plan for our lives and the lighter our steps feel moving forward in its direction. 

Grooming seasons require routine maintenance

While some seasons of change are specifically for grooming, we’re always in the process of maintenance.  Little shoots of toxic growth pop up from time to time, in the ways we snap at each other and settle back into old lazy patterns.  The grief wheel is always, always, always turning.  But we can recognize those triggers or slipping patterns now and perform a mini-groom much more quickly than the full season originally required. 

That’s the beautiful thing about grooming seasons – they are a remarkable “reset” phenomenon, restoring you to a new factory setting.  From this clean slate, new possibilities emerge and so does a stronger, wiser version of yourself. 

You just have to make it through. 

Things that happened in our grooming seasons

We grieved, we retreated, we desperately searched for answers and “why.”  We rejected help until we were drowning in our own incapability.  Finally we asked for help from our family and friends to cover meals, housework, errands, and tasks that were easy to delegate.  We didn’t eat, exercise, or sleep well.  He and I both sought wise professional counsel for our mental, emotional, and spiritual health.  We snapped at each other a lot and practiced lots of forgiveness and sacrificial love.  We said no to just about everything and everyone in favor of our self care.  Nobody had energy to care what anybody else thought about us.  We accepted love and care from people without feeling pressured to reciprocate. 

You may be in a grooming season if:

  • You feel squeezed or pressed
  • You’re navigating a crisis, loss, or major life decision
  • You feel there’s not enough time
  • You think you can’t handle one more thing
  • You’re relying on your own strength to face a problem you can’t solve
  • Your equilibrium has shifted in favor of self-reflection and self-care
  • You feel pulled in every direction
  • The idea of anything new feels scary and unwelcome

Helpful hints for coming out stronger through a grooming season:

  • Pray for clarity as to what you are supposed to be learning
  • Be willing to ask yourself hard questions and answer honestly
  • Enlist a friend or family member to hold you accountable for changes you’re making
  • Remind yourself often that change is uncomfortable but necessary for the full life you desire to live
  • Practice good time management to prevent overwhelm
  • Get plenty of sleep and eat well (your mind is trash if your body is unhealthy!)
  • Give yourself and everyone around you exceeding amounts of patience and grace
  • Ask for and allow other people to help you
  • Fill your mind with good things – books that bring actual comfort, no matter the genre

Seasons change to allow you to rest

After those massive grooming seasons of change through grief and marriage recovery, we felt exhausted and renewed all at the same time.  It was like coming out of an underground cave – the world looked different, we looked different to ourselves and to each other, and we were beyond grateful to have made it out alive.  Quite literally, in both cases.  

Grooming seasons changed to seasons of rest.  With refreshed perspective and hearts full of hope, these new seasons were nothing but bright and truly felt like a gift after all we had been through.  We played and laughed.  We celebrated and put on weight and loved every single minute of our light-hearted life.  It wasn’t perfect, and it won’t ever be, but compared to the darkness we stumbled through it’s pretty sweet.

Those seasons of rest were exactly what we needed to heal, recover, and enjoy each other and our life again.  Not much was asked of us and that was absolutely okay.  There was no chaos anymore.  Just peace. 

Things that happened in our rest seasons

Lots of reading, deepening of our spiritual lives, fun at the ballpark, great food, great wine, joy in our friendships, gratitude for the lessons we learned, hope for the future, continued self-discovery and reinvention.  Jack reshaped his business model and time management.  I started writing this blog.  We spent lots of time together as a family living the values we hold in priority.  We had a baby!  (I realize a baby means no rest at all but the decision to bring a little life into the world was made in the most rational and present mindset.)

You might be in a resting season if:

  • All engines are humming sweetly with ease
  • You feel comfortable and safe
  • There is peace in your mind and spirit
  • Your calendar is full of things you like and want to do
  • It’s easy to say no to things that seem overwhelming or “extra”
  • You are enjoying activities and self-care guilt-free
  • Your equilibrium has shifted and settled in favor of faith, self, and family

Helpful hints for enjoying the fullness and peace of a resting season:

  • Express prayers of gratitude for all that you’ve been given
  • Limit technology and screen time
  • Rest and give your body what it needs
  • Take pictures (in the next grooming season, you will be so grateful you did)
  • Journal and document special moments and experiences
  • Stand confidently in the choices you make
  • Embrace the relationships rising to the top of your life
  • Practice great time management to still accomplish your goals while leaving plenty of uninterrupted time for your family and friends
  • Dream about your vision for the future

Seasons change to push you to grow

Somewhere in those rest seasons we started to dream again.  It’s hard to create anything out of chaos, so it’s no surprise that as our life calmed, so did our minds and hearts, freeing up space for creativity and future-minded thinking.  We were able to take inventory of our careers and their trajectories, determining where we really felt called to direct them.  We felt pulled to move forward with plans and pick up where we left off before we lost our son and almost lost our marriage. 

More is expected of us during seasons of growth.  Everything we’ve learned from those trying seasons of grooming, and everything we perfected in seasons of rest, comes into play when growth is required.  We can take those new skills, that stronger belief, the renewed sense of self and purpose, and apply them all to a new mission. 

Growth is an invitation.  Not a requirement

I can think of many opportunities in which I’ve been invited to grow and said no - either consciously or subconsciously.  I may have said no to growth because I was scared or doubtful.  Growth looks like time… like work… like inconvenience.  It looks like therapy... like hard conversations... like staying in painful moments until you've seen them through.

Growth is not mandatory.  Saying no to growth is okay, but it comes at a price.  You will stay exactly where you are, with the same problems and anxieties you have, unless and until you are willing to grow around and through them.  Some people spend their entire lives in this place by choice, or some by unawareness.  I don't ever want to do that.  There's too much abundant life to be lived to stay stuck.  

Because growth is optional, some people will say no when you say yes.  We will outgrow certain people in our lives.  This is hard.  It doesn’t mean the relationship is over, but it does mean the relationship is redefined.  But here’s some good news: the right people will always grow with you, or meet you on the way, and they will cheer for you it happens. 

Things that happened in our growing seasons 

Jack expanded his business, we took on more opportunities to mentor and lead in all aspects of our life, we had better discussions about time/money/emotional management, our teamwork patterns kicked into higher gear, we experienced bumps in our relationships and had to make peace with some redefined boundaries, I’m feeling a push towards new projects and sense of urgency to pursue bigger goals, it’s easier to prioritize commitments, time seems to multiply and so does productivity.  

You might be in a growing season if:

  • You feel inspired and a little scared, or uncomfortable but excited about it
  • An opportunity is knocking that you can’t ignore
  • New ideas are welcome
  • You feel focused, driven, and “in the zone”
  • Your creativity is through the roof
  • You are enjoying collaborating with other people
  • Your equilibrium is shifting to a focus on goals and the future

Helpful hints for making the most of a growing season

  • Pray for clarity and willingness to move in the direction you’re being called to go
  • Write down or record every idea that comes to mind
  • Share your ideas with a mentor or friend who can encourage and hold you accountable
  • Practice great time management to accomplish your goals yet provide for self-care and rest/renewal
  • Stay in contact with your VIP relationships
  • Read great books and listen to inspiring audio
  • Establish good systems for meals, schedules, etc. to simplify the logistics of your life

Important truths for every season

So where do you find yourself right now?  No matter which season you’re in, you can hold tight to these important truths:

  • There’s room to rest.
  • You have the power of choice.
  • You are never helpless and never alone.

There are tools and resources at your disposal.  There are people in your life who are divinely placed to help and support you.  And I believe God is standing right beside you, waiting for you to grab hold and trust His guidance.

So with the sky getting bluer each day closer to October, I’m embracing the season I’m in – a little uncomfortable, a lot exciting, with a lump in my throat and bright hope for tomorrow. 

Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside. 

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. – Ecclesiastes 3:1

HP,

J

Seasons change | Grooming season | quick tips for navigating a grooming season
Seasons change | Season of rest | Quick tips for managing a season of rest
Seasons change | Season of growth | Quick tips for navigating a growth season
10 things I Didn't Know About Marriage | plain text with blush flowers
Sep 04

10 Things I Didn’t Know About Marriage (but I wish someone told me)

By Jessica Allen | Marriage

1. Your spouse is going to drive you crazy.  

All those things you thought were super cute about your spouse before you got married will turn into behaviors and patterns that make you want to scream in the day to day of marriage.  Your spouse will want to scream about you, too.  Jack’s clutter is apocalyptic.  It takes me an eternity to make decisions.  It’s an actual miracle we haven’t killed each other yet.  Some of the annoying stuff you let go of, some of it you compromise on, and some of it you will suck up and change because you love each other and it's not worth the fight.  

A fun way to prevent insanity is to dig into personality typing like the Enneagram or DISC or Myers-Briggs.  The more you understand about how you each are wired, the easier it is to cut each other some slack.  We’re all programmed differently and we come to marriage with presets from our families of origin that may or may not be compatible or sustainable without some intentional focused effort.  Talk about it and work it out.  See #8 and #9. 

2. You will become completely different people and you will grow apart. 

This is the lame excuse we like to use for why we get divorced.  I know, because I said it a million times in 2017.  This “becoming different people” is a guarantee in life – not one of us avoids change.  The key is figuring out how to grow through it together.  One foolproof way to walk the road together is to keep God at the center because He’s the only constant in a lifetime of change.  It takes two… well, actually three.   Especially in seasons where it feels you’re drifting further and further away from each other.  Stay rooted, stay focused, stay committed, and stay the course.  

3. Having children will make you wonder why you ever decided to have children.  

But it will also help you understand yourselves and each other from a whole new perspective.  Our son is the most hysterical split-down-the-middle of both our personalities and he knows exactly what to say and do to get under everyone’s skin in this house.

When I see him max out and cry hot tears of frustration, I see myself in miniature form, angry that no one seems to understand what I need.  So I stop what I am doing to ask better questions and truly hear what he’s trying to say.   When he deliberately torments the closest person by poking or pinching, I see my husband’s mini-me need for touch and connection.  So I pause to give him a hug or tickle him back. 

Our adopted daughter G is a magical blend of nature (how she was divinely created by birth) and nurture (quirky combinations of the two of us).  We have learned more about each other through challenging conversations with her simply because she is curious and highly perceptive – and we want to be honest in every response.  The world is a different place for our children than it was for us growing up.  So much hits them hard and fast so much younger.  Tackling their tough questions stretches us in the best ways and we're most successful when we wrestle through the hard ones together.

4. Making married friends is hard.  

It’s like dating all over again.  Chemistry matters.  It’s a rare gift to find couples you enjoy talking and laughing with, who love your children like their own, and most importantly: you never have to clean your house or put on makeup for them because they do not judge your mess.  Love and feed them well and thank them often.  Make time for time together.   

5. Absolutely never assume anything at all.

Communication in my humble and honest opinion is the #1 problem that can lead to The Unraveling of a marriage.  He does not know what you’re thinking.  She has no idea what you need.  Saying the hard thing is one billion times better than not saying it.  Speak up.  Your needs matter and your ideas count.  Want to make it to forever?  Get the words out even if they feel awkward or mean.  If you feel misunderstood it is your responsibility to communicate it better in a way the other person understands.  (this is one of the hardest truths I’ve ever had to swallow.  My happiness is up to me.)

6. If you aren’t actively investing in your marriage, you’re inadvertently investing in something (or someone) else.

Ugggghhhhhh this just doesn’t seem like a big deal until it’s out of control, at which point it’s nearly impossible to fix.  What you focus on will grow, whether it’s career success or your bank account or your mental wellness or your spiritual life or your marriage.  If you are intently focused on something other than your marriage, and that is okay, be sure you are checking in and nurturing your marriage regularly.  Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  (Luke 12:34)  So we better make sure our hearts are in the right place.  That foundation of safety and trust in your marriage will be the starting block for anything good you choose to accomplish in any other area of your life.

Regarding the kids vs. marriage tug of war: It’s easy as parents to get preoccupied with meeting our children’s needs.  We are drowning right now in fall ball and keeping a baby alive.  However: we get 18 years with our children… and a lifetime with each other.  That’s a lot of “leftover” that I’d still really like to love my life and the man I chose to spend it with.

An important end note on this one: infidelity can happen to anyone and it can happen faster than you realize.  Invest in your marriage with time, words, connection, surprises, honesty, and willingness to mess up and try again.  Love your spouse well and they will never want to search for love somewhere else.  (That is never okay either - See #5.)

7. Sex matters more than you think.

Men need it to feel connected, and women need to feel connected to have it.  WHAT IS THIS TRICKERY?  I hid this one in the middle hoping my grandmother isn’t reading it.  I’ve never dug into this topic here because #churchgirl but there is just some important stuff I think we should all be talking about.  Secretly and buried in the middle of a list, of course.  

If marriage is forever, your sex life may as well be fulfilling.  Just like anything else, there are specialists and experts to help navigate changes and problems when they surface, and healthy people get help.  Body image, hormones, life changes, and stress all dance a part in this weird ballet because sex is part of our physical and emotional (and really, spiritual) health.  

And then there’s the possible reality that one or both of you may have encountered sexual trauma at some point in your lifetime.  If you are too angry, hurt, or otherwise emotionally blocked up to make your married sex life what you want it to be, get help.  Everyone hurts and everything gets complicated when you withhold this God-given gift from each other. (I am not an expert or anything resembling a professional.  These are my own observations, pulled from my own experiences and many, many, many conversations with honest people I trust and respect.)

Sex should be fun and safe

Sex should never ever involve anyone but the two of you.  This means respecting your spouse enough not to talk with friends about your sex life.  It also means pornography has absolutely no place in your marriage.  Perhaps this sounds like a prude or old-fashioned idea but I challenge you to find one redeeming value in the billion dollar industry that is profiting from exploiting sex, women, men, and children for goodness’ sake.  I could link to a thousand articles explaining how porn is scientifically and psychologically bad for your brain and bad for your heart and bad for your spiritual life and bad for your marriage and your family.  

There’s my soapbox and I’m sticking to it.  There are a zillion other ways to keep sex fun and exciting.  And truthfully, the best way to make it amazing  - real trust and emotional intimacy - costs little to no money at all.

My only reference point is my own collection of first-half-of-life experiences here: being newlyweds, weight gain, pregnancy, grief, bed rest, postpartum, depression/anxiety, raising small children, post-infidelity, and the exhilarating exhaustion of entrepreneurial life.  We haven’t yet run into mid-life, empty nest, retirement, menopause, etc.  So there is still a lifetime of change and learning ahead.  But what I do know is that a safe and connected relationship has to have this component right, whatever that looks like for your marriage.  Even if it's simply what my favorite expert, Dr. Celeste Holbrook, calls ABC sex: Anniversary, Birthday, Christmas.  

Exhale.  We all just got through that together.  (Sorry, grandma.)  

8. Levity, honesty, and listening really can solve most marriage problems.

The right balance of humor, truth, and real conversation is tough to find.  Keep trying.  “Never go to sleep angry” is a myth I think… but be willing to revisit and resolve the argument the next day.  The most morbid joke at what we thought was the end of our marriage was the first time we had really laughed in months.  And it helped.  Speak up when you need to say the hard thing, and then bite your tongue to listen, lighten up, and ask yourself often: am I willing to sacrifice this relationship for the sake of being right? 

9. For all other problems, get help.

I will never regret the time spent scowling at each other on a therapist’s couch.  It was worth it to try, really try, for the sake of our future together and mostly for our children’s future too.  They deserved every ounce of “fight” we had in us (the good kind).  When it gets so bad between you that you can’t see a way out together, you need a third party to mediate and help slog through the layers of muck you’ve buried yourselves under.  PAY THE MONEY and MAKE THE TIME and ARRANGE THE CHILDCARE and STOP MAKING EXCUSES and JUST GO.  I cannot emphasize this enough.  Your whole life will change because of it.  And if it doesn’t work?!!!  Then at least you will know you gave all you had to the cause, and you will never live with regret that you didn’t try.    

10. Marriage is the hardest, most exhausting, best commitment you can make.  

If you meet a married couple who say they never wanted to throw in the towel, I bet they are lying.  With all due respect.  Sometimes the “death” in “’til death do us part” feels like it might come sooner rather than later.  This deal is hard.  But it's worth every ounce of the work to make it great. 

HP,

J

What do you wish someone had told you about marriage?  OR, what do you wish you could tell someone else - or prepare your children for - about marriage?

10 Things I Never Knew About Marriage | plain text with blush flowers
Arguments in marriage | marriage conflict | say this not that
Aug 27

Arguments in Marriage: Say This, Not That

By Jessica Allen | Marriage

If only there were an Easy Button to help us say this, not that. When it comes to arguments in our marriage, we learned the hard way that some words work, and some words just don’t. Having that Easy Button years ago would have saved me so many tears and so much frustration. But I know better now. And when you know better, you do better, right?

Fights don’t just come out of nowhere in our marriage.  They build up like a pressure cooker – one little comment and one little undressed wound at a time.  Pile enough of them together and POW!  We’re yelling at each other in the backyard, or even worse, snipping at each other in public.  (This is the number one way to make your friends and family and maybe even complete strangers feel super uncomfortable.)

Navigating arguments in marriage

Though it may not feel like it in the moment, we have choices in arguments in marriage.  Choices to say or not say, do or not do.  The problem is that once the pressure cooker explodes, it’s hard to think rationally.  At the first point of anger – usually brought on by fear, disappointment, frustration, or embarrassment – your brain starts a chain reaction that floods your system with cortisol, which literally destroys your brain cells, inhibiting good judgment and impairing your short-term memory.  This is also where “fight or flight” kicks in – one of our most basic human instincts.  (Click here for a cool run-down and infographic on Your Brain on Anger.)

And that’s just YOU.   Your spouse experiences all this brain junk too when they’re angry.  To simplify the science jargon, once we’re enveloped in unchecked anger, we become unpredictably mentally unstable.  Even simpler: we turn into Crazy People.  This is mostly how I feel when I’m over the anger line: 

Crazy Cruella De Ville | Anger | Angry | Arguments in marriage
She’s a treat, ain’t she? I do love that even at lunatic-status, her lipstick game is still on point.

Imagine two of these people facing off in a fight. This is not the ideal starting gate for resolving arguments in marriage. 

Related post: Say What You Mean

Good news

We’ve found some good tools for arguments in our marriage that help us when we’ve lost our marbles. 

If you practice them when your mind is clear, it’s infinitely easier to recall them when you’re seeing red.  Here are our top 10 game-changing phrases to de-escalate arguments in marriage. (pinnable infographic at the bottom!)

Say this, not that

Say this: I’m sorry

Be specific. I’m sorry I hurt you, I’m sorry I said that, I’m sorry I did that, I’m sorry I made you feel that way.  Name what you did and own your part in it. It helps heal the other person when they know you know what you did to hurt them. (Sometimes you don’t. Ask for help to understand.)

Not that: I’m sorry you feel that way OR I’m sorry if I made you feel like that

The magic of an apology is that you are accepting accountability and responsibility for what you did.  Both of these phrases – I’m sorry you and I’m sorry if – imply the other person is out of line for being upset, and that you don’t really believe you contributed to their pain.  They’re cop-out phrases and we’re all better than that.

Say this: Please

Not that: *bark any order*
*assume it’s their “job” to do it*

Saying please is the simplest way to show respect.  And it’s the shortest, easiest word to add to your request.

Say this: Thank you

Not that: *silence*
*believing you deserved it*
*assuming they know you’re grateful*

People need to be acknowledged for their effort and care.  Especially your spouse.  Thank them for the hard work they do, and the little tasks they take off your plate.  Nothing makes someone feel seen and heard like gratitude, genuinely and explicitly expressed.

Say this: I’m listening

Not that: *anything else other than looking your spouse in the eye and listening*

This seems so easy but it is becoming a lost art.  Put down the screens, zero in your focus, and actively listen to what your spouse is saying.  DO NOT PLAN YOUR RESPONSE as they are talking.  You’ll miss what they’re really saying, and if you are angry you’ll subconsciously try to one-up them in your reply.  Slow down and listen to understand rather than listen to respond.

Say this: You were right

Not that: “Well, I thought…”
“I only did it because…”

Admitting that someone else was right does not give your power away.  Humble yourself, acknowledge the other person, and don’t feel any less of a human because they were right.  You’ll probably get to be right next time.

Say this: I was wrong

Not this: “I did it because…”
“Well, last time YOU…”

Own your mistake.  Don’t deflect your misstep by blaming your spouse or calling them out on one of their related failures.  We don’t allow our children to do that to each other, so let’s not do it to our adult spouses either. 

Say this: Forgive me

“I was wrong.  Can you please forgive me?”  This is the most underutilized yet most powerful secret weapon in your marriage wizard bag. 

Not that: “I SAID I was sorry.”

Just because you say you are sorry doesn’t mean your spouse’s feelings are unhurt or they’re instantly happy again.  Especially if you snarky-say it like that.  Forgiveness is a choice and asking for it is important – it shows you understand what you did to cause the other person pain, and that you respect them enough to ask for their grace.  This requires massive amounts of humility and it’s hard.  It’s why the Bible tells us we have to forgive seventy times seven (and therefore be willing to ask for forgiveness just as much). 

Related post: Quit the Blame Game

Say this: I understand

Not that: “You shouldn’t feel that way!”
*any version of trying to fix the problem without being asked to do so*

Sometimes the most well-intentioned encouragement (“You’re not dumb!  You shouldn’t feel bad about that! Etc.) invalidates our spouses and shuts them down.  Did they have a bad day?  Don’t minimize or dismiss it.  Rather: listen, respond kindly, and fight the urge to fix it.  99.9% of the time, our spouses just want us to listen and understand. 

Say this: I respect you

Not that: *any fired-off complaint, insult, criticism, or sarcastic comment*

You are the most important person your spouse counts on for support and respect.  This goes for both men and women but double a man’s need for respect from his wife.  It’s how he is wired (whether you like it or not) so if you don’t truly respect what he’s doing or saying in the moment, affirm what you do respect in him as a human being.  Acknowledging what you do respect in him will help him stay pointed in the right direction, and it will also help you from picking him apart.

Say this: I love you

Not that: *withholding that statement because you are angry*

You may be livid but never let there be a doubt in your spouse’s mind (or yours) that you still love each other. 

In our darkest days we still slept in the same bed yet inched as far away as humanly possible.  Often it was a long silent standoff after the lights went out but not once did we ever go to sleep without someone caving and muttering “I love you” first.  Even when we didn’t feel it.

Because sometimes love isn’t a feeling.  It’s a choice.  A really hard choice you have to make a hundred times a day.  It requires patience, forgiveness, grace, selflessness, and self-control.  All the fruits of the spirit, actually. Especially when you’re in the heat of an argument in your marriage.  Little by little, all that practice of “say this, not that” will start changing the trajectory of your conversations and therefore hopefully diffuse some arguments in your marriage before they even start.

Choose better words and you will grow a better marriage.  Because where your words lead, your actions will follow. 

Here’s to some better “fights” in the future. 

HP,

J

PS: Need some inspiration? Check out our story of choosing love when it felt impossible.

marriage arguments | conflict management | say this not that
Why I Write | woman writing | find your purpose
Aug 20

Why I Write

By Jessica Allen | Faith , Life

There is something wonderfully intimate about written words.  When you look carefully at something handwritten, you can sense feeling in the curve of each stroke.  Even in type print, you can feel a writer’s emotions in the words they have laid on the page.

When I read my Granddad’s old sermons I loved watching his thoughts unfold on the paper. Throughout his 40-year ministry he crafted each message, by hand of course, scratching out and rewriting as I believe the Holy Spirit must have led him. To read his work from beginning to end was a gaze into the windows of his heart and the evolution of his faith. Reading his work in his own handwriting made it all the more personal and special.

So for me, as much as I love podcasts and audiobooks, there is no substitute for written word.

Since I can remember I have always turned to pen and paper in times when my heart spills over.  Where my own distracted mind and unreliable memory often fail, writing never does.

Things that confound my understanding look a little simpler in my own script.

What tears my heart in two seems easier to mend when I see it in ink. 

So I trust the page. Because nothing makes sense in my head or heart until I get it there. 

Once it’s on paper, it’s no longer imagined, exaggerated, minimized, or distorted.  It’s real.  Just as it is, just as I see it, no more, and no less.  And once it’s real I can deal with it.  I can give it a name and assign it a feeling.  Even when I don’t understand it, I can watch it take shape in words, and I can hand those words to God.  They don’t have to be pretty (usually they aren’t) or even appropriate (happens more than you think). 

My gift is my song and this one’s for you

Those words become my prayers.  The song that I sing back to the One who made us.  Those prayers – that song – is full of wrong notes, broken chords, awkward pauses, and shaky entrances.  It’s riddled with uncertainty but fueled by an unwavering belief that it matters.  

Because there’s something in me whispering to be set free.   A voice in my soul that travels through my heartstrings and out through my fingertips.  A voice that is mine and mine only, unblemished by anyone else’s expectations or needs or beliefs or ambitions. 

The older I get, the more persistent that voice becomes.  Events and experiences in my adulthood continue to challenge everything I thought I knew about my life, my faith, my convictions, my relationships, and my calling. 

That’s a lot of noise rumbling in my head and heart. 

And when that noise rises to deafening levels, it’s easy to overwhelm and shut down.  It’s tempting to muffle it, distract from it, dismiss it altogether.  But then I miss the magic.  I miss the opportunity to learn from it, grow through it, mold it into something beautiful I can offer back into the world. 

What is wisdom gained from our experiences if not a gift we pay forward?

Why I write: to shine light in the dark

Left inside myself, everything I know and think and feel is hoarded… muzzled… censored… wasted

To have been blessed with the love and faith I’ve been given, and clutch it close to myself, would be my failure as a witness to the power of God’s love and grace in my life. 

To own these stories of hope and choose not to share them would be valuing my own comfort over someone else’s despair.

If there’s even the tiniest chance this little lighthouse can shine a way for someone else, then I will keep the candle burning. 

That candle is the light I wish I had seen in the dark.  Comfort I needed when we lost our son.  A shake of the shoulders I needed when I almost lost my marriage.  Compassion I needed as I wrestled with changing beliefs.  Permission I needed to be exactly myself when I couldn’t recognize the face in the mirror.  Patience I needed when I learned the hard way.  And the truth that I needed when my questions brought me to my knees.

But yet I am learning, over and over and over again, that for some questions I may never in this lifetime receive a satisfying answer. There’s a piece of me in heaven and the rest of me down here and I don’t know if that’s something I will ever reconcile in my human mind.

Thus forward in faith I go.

So why do I write?

I write because my heart says to write and I can’t ignore her any longer.  No matter who reads it, or if anyone ever does.  The measure of its impact is not for me to decide, nor does its “success” or “failure” determine my worth.  I don’t even have to understand its ultimate purpose or see a clear path in front of me. 

My only responsibility is simply to offer it up.   

The rest is up to Him.

HP,

J

PS: This is why I write. So why do you do what you do?  Do you believe it matters?  Because it does, more than you could imagine. Try putting your “why” on paper.  You might surprise yourself. If you’d like a little extra help and inspiration, try this: Who am I (and who do I want to become)?

YOU are also why I write. For there is something in you too that is whispering to be set free.

Carry on, dear one.  You’re right where you are supposed to be.

Why I Write | typewriter and blank paper | find your purpose
Find your purpose | man on mountain | what's your why
20 Questions for Marriage | Affair-proof your marriage | woman asking questions
Aug 09

20 Questions Worth Asking Your Spouse

By Jessica Allen | Marriage

We took a trip several years ago in October.  If our marriage was in rough shape before we left, it was gasping for air when we returned home.  Some deal-breakers happened on that trip, to both of us, by both of us.  What should have been a lovely week away was in reality the unraveling of anything good we still had left.

My bruised and confused heart cracked in two that week.  On our way back from the airport I was trying with all that was in me to recover what I loved about my husband.  I reached into the rock bottom of my barrel and all I could come up with was, “What’s your favorite sandwich?”

I know it was lame. But it was all I had left. 

And his response was the nail in my coffin. 

“That’s stupid.  You know what my favorite sandwich is.”

The next day he found out about the affair.  (here’s the story and here’s what we learned)

I’m not saying the sandwich question would have saved anything.  It surely wouldn’t have.  But I would have gone to sleep a little less heartbroken and a little more hopeful.

Perhaps if we had started asking sandwich questions long before that night, and answering them thoughtfully, we would have stayed connected in small ways.  Because small connections, enough of them entwined together, grow into a bond that can’t be broken. 

So many questions

In the aftermath, we took another trip.  We drove across the country this time with our children in tow.  You could cut the tension with a knife and the silence was deafening.  This was about our lowest point in recovery and we weren’t speaking to each other much at all, so the thought of 18 hours in the car (twice) and a whole week in a hotel room together was painful.  Ironically, Jack had printed out a multiple lists of get-to-know-you questions that he asked me the whole. way. there. And the whole. way. home.

Not ONE of those questions was about a sandwich.  But they did give us safe and fluffy and seemingly inconsequential things to talk about to simply keep the conversation going. 

Three months later we reconciled and the rest – so far – is history. 

We joke about these crazy question lists because they are reminders of our most desperate selves. Two people who were so hurt, so broken, so angry, that we couldn’t even drum up our own conversations.  They gave us an easy place to start on days that felt like the world’s most awkward blind date (a scary one where you actually hate each other a little bit). 

Love grows where you nurture it

Since then we’ve come so far from “what’s your favorite sandwich” to tastier things we can really sink our teeth into: hard questions about our history, and questions about our future that we get to dream about together.  Those questions are even sweeter now because we almost didn’t get to ask them of each other.  Thank God we had the strength, stubbornness, and faith-however-shaky to stay the course. 

Because that was progression was fun to reflect upon, I made a question list of our own.  Not the fluffy questions – you can find those anywhere online.  What I made for us is a list of really good questions.  Questions I wish we had asked each other long ago, and the answers of which I wish we had listened for more carefully.  

Because believe it or not, when you are paying good attention, normal everyday conversations present opportunities to ask better questions to unlock sweet secrets in your partner.  Simply take the time to listen and respond in a thoughtful way.   I’ve learned more in the last 3 years about who my husband really is than I feel like I knew in the entirety of our relationship up to that point. Simply because I learned the very hard way:

The person you’re paying the most attention to is the person your heart will grow to love. 

If you’d like to have a copy of my favorite 20 Questions Worth Asking, just enter your email address here and I’ll send it right to your inbox.  Current Happy Mail Club members – you should have received yours already!

Whether the opportunity to ask these questions presents itself at at coffee club or a brief passing moment in your day, tuck this little list of great questions into your pocket (maybe literally!) and enjoy getting to know your spouse even better. 

HP,

J

20 Questions for Marriage | Affair-proof your marriage
new growth | green plant | growth in marriage
Jul 25

New growth in marriage

By Jessica Allen | Marriage

Waiting for new growth is a gamble sometimes. 

At what point do you call it quits on something (or someone) that no longer serves you?  What happens when systems, patterns, or relationships seem dead and gone but it feels hard to let go?

There’s heartache in holding on to dead weight or idealistic beliefs.  But there’s something to be said for faith and belief in the possibility of something old giving way to new growth. 

And that’s the gamble. 

Do you let go of that person, that endeavor, that idea, or do you hold on for dear life with the belief that something good is still to come?

Less-than-green thumb

I have a B-minus green thumb.  Mostly, my plants grow in spite of me and offer me much grace when I forget to water them in the scorching Texas heat. 

One backyard trellis is enveloped in fragrant jasmine and stunning grapevines that cascade even more lushly each summer.  My mandevillas wind up the other bright blue trellis, offering vibrant red and white blooms on each twisty tendril.  I have potted hibiscus that grows sideways, orange honeysuckle that only occasionally flowers, a bougainvillia that is on its 7th life at least, and cheery pink petunias that have somehow teleported into a second pot that’s not their own.  A big calla lily and Easter lilies from years past hide behind the deck because they’re happiest there in more shade. I like to stick little picks and gnomes in my plants, sweet twirly hummingbirds and ladybugs peeking from the leaves representing each of our children. Over in my yoga corner my little “happiness” tiki man nestles in the dirt under a canopy of ruby begonias.  There are three fat palm trees behind our pool and four crepe myrtles lining the fence.  Nothing matches and I don’t care.  It’s green, and beautiful, and I love it all.

But my favorite plant in the yard is the plumeria we brought home from Kauai. 

Life symbols

We decided in 2.0 that we were going to collect “life symbols” for our home – things that mark occasions or values.  Some life symbols we’ve gathered so far are a framed picture of us at the Eiffel tower, our vows on canvas, the kids’ drawings of our family when we were slogging through muck, etc.  It’s less about the things and more about the meaning behind them.

So as we came home from our second honeymoon, inspired by my dear friend who keeps beautiful plumeria in her yard, we scooped up several clippings from the airport in different color varietals with high hopes that at least one of them would bloom. I ended up giving them all away as gifts (I do that with stuff) but kept one for myself as our newest life symbol.

Plant trivia

The neat thing about plumeria is that is goes dormant in the winter.  So you literally cover it up, put it in the garage in the dark, and don’t touch it during the colder months.  When it warms up, you bring it back out, give it some TLC, and watch it go nuts.  It’s the craziest thing. 

Last summer it grew the biggest most beautiful leaves but didn’t produce blooms.  So this year I thought I’d experiment and make a second clipping from my one thriving plant.  I cut the top third and repotted it.  I watered it, peeked at it every day, and watched it…

Die.

Oh the tragic irony. Our second honeymoon life symbol was dying.

It started to shrivel and brown.  Then it turned black.  It never got spongy (sure sign of rot) but it definitely was not going to win a prize at the fair. 

My original plumeria had already sprouted leaves, and then debuted two brand new chubby little arms.  I’ll clip one of those to repopulate, hopefully with more success this time.  I’m hopeful it will give us some flowers this year.  I can’t even remember what color it is so that will be a fun surprise.  (I caught G plucking the leaves off this week to make a tent for a lizard she caught and I totally freaked out and yelled at her.  Ooops. Every moment is an opportunity to start over and be better, and thank you Lord Jesus for your grace in the moment.)

So next to the one gorgeous green plant, my useless rotting clipping just rested sadly in its pot.  I left it tucked underneath the grapevines for weeks, partly because I didn’t have anything else to put in there, partly because I didn’t have the energy to do anything about it, and mostly because I didn’t have the heart to take it out and throw it away.  It was special, you know. 

Surprise

And then I pulled up the grapevines.

Imagine my shock when I saw two tiny green leaves sprouting out of the side of my shriveled plumeria.  I actually sat down and cried. 

new growth | plumeria | green leaves

I fought every instinct I had to move it or change its soil, and simply watered it and left it alone.  The leaves have grown bigger by today and that one little green side of the stalk has gotten a little brighter. 

THAT little plant is more of a metaphor of our marriage than the big flourishing plumeria is. 

Here’s what I’ve learned about new growth:

  1. Growth takes time and the right conditions.  Give your marriage (or your job, your wellness, or anything else you’re white-knuckling through) what it needs to thrive.  Rest, nutrition and exercise, positive input, prayer, and belief are just a few of the things a sick marriage needs.  Shower it with patience.  Offer it your daily investment of time and care and intentional love.  Write the note.  Bite your tongue.  Grant forgiveness.
  2. You cannot force it.  People will change when they are damn well good and ready.  It might take forever. And even then, it might not be the kind of change you were expecting.  So in the meantime, choose to change yourself in meaningful ways. 
  3. The ugly stuff is still there.  I cannot undo what I did. He can’t undo what he said.  But in the going-forward we can choose to see the new growth – what’s green instead of what’s black.  We can nourish what’s growing, tend to it carefully, and be mindful not to let the rot take over. 

Survivor tree – new growth from wreckage

My favorite part of our visit to NYC many years ago was visiting the 9/11 memorial.  Inside the grounds there is a Callery pear tree that looks totally out of place.  It was planted in the 1970’s and was destroyed when the towers fell.  But it was uncovered from the rubble, smoking and burned and barely alive. Someone brought it to a nursery in the Bronx and they loved it back to life.  It now stands over 30 feet tall and is a breath-taking feature back at the memorial.  The original salvaged 8-foot trunk is scarred, dark, weathered, and worn.  You can see where the new growth emerged because the younger branches are smooth and light.  Even more beautiful: its seedlings have been planted at more than a dozen places around the world at memorials for natural disasters or attacks.

9/11 survivor tree | new growth
Here’s a good article about the 9/11 Survivor Tree if you’d like to learn more.

I sat at the foot of that tree and cried too.  For the gift of new life out of the wreckage.  For the beauty that rises from ashes.  This visit to the Survivor Tree was shortly after we lost our son yet long before we almost lost our marriage. 

What new growth is still to come? What seedlings of our stories will become a source of hope for people in mourning all over the world?

I’d love to see that tree again, and I’m sure I will.  In the meantime, I’ll revel over my Little Plumeria That Could, and my Amazing Marriage That Did, and treat them both with the loving care they deserve. 

HP,

J

new growth | green plant | growth in marriage
time management tips for work from home moms
Jul 16

Time Management for Dummies (Smarties)

By Jessica Allen | Life

Today we’re talking time management. Time management for dummies. Time management for smarties, actually… because anyone intent on learning how to better manage their time is wiser than most.

When you can manage your time, money, and emotions well, the rest of life tends to fall much better into place.

I wrote a piece for my friend Ashleigh over at Smart Cents Mom on the nuts and bolts of my work-from-home time management strategies. This is everything I’ve learned from seasoned mentors, as well as my own experience as a work-from-home mom. Entrepreneurship is the best job on the planet but it can make you crazy if you don’t have a good grip on your time and energy output.

Multiply that crazy times infinity if you’re throwing small children in the mix. (The baby is chewing my arm while I’m typing this right now.) There are countless distractions throughout the day threatening to derail any train of thought and I’ve watched more people than I can say become frustrated to the point of throwing in the towel (with their businesses, not with their children). I’ve learned as I’ve grown, and my business and strategies have evolved right along with my life and family.

I don’t believe we’re supposed to “do it all” in life. But you can do what fuels you – all the important things – when you find a healthy equilibrium between them all. Notice I did not say “balance.” Balance is a lie and a surefire setup for frustration. In equilibrium, parts are ever-shifting all the time in harmony, making room for what must take priority in the right-now.

All this is to say: I have strong feelings on this topic of time management. Because poor time management sinks ships. But time managed well will let any dream or project take flight.

I hope you’ll give my guest piece a read, and while you’re there, check out the rest of what’s happening at Smart Cents Mom! Time Management for Work From Home Moms (or, how to keep your sanity and love your life)

HP,

J

PS: Need a good tool for getting on track? Try this. Pen and paper taped to my fridge has never once steered me wrong.

time management tips for work from home moms
1 2 3 9