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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.

MOTHER WARRIOR | MOTHERS DAY
May 09

Mother Warrior – a Mothers Day battle cry

By Jessica Allen | Faith , Family , Grief

Mothers Day is messy for me, a different kind of wonderful-hard-precious-messy every year.

I know I have loss issues. They muddy up just about everything I do, in a really wild and beautiful way that I’d never wish away. Grief and the missing of a piece of my heart means that my heart hears softer and feels deeper and sees brighter than it did before it fractured and mended back together. It beats stronger in my chest now that it did then. 

Since I sent part of myself to heaven - my tiny baby who waits for me there - there are some events, some seasons, some stories, that hold a little more space and weight. 

I am late to the Ahmaud Arbury party, and the Covid party, and the politics party too, and just about every other touchy confusing heartbreaking party out there; admittedly because it gets real messy in my mind and heart.  I haven’t until this moment dipped my toe in the political/social commentary water because I was raised to know that’s an invitation for a fist fight (and in my modern adult life, a total internet assassination). 

Sadly, most of these issues aren’t political at all, and it exhausts and confounds me to no end that we force them into being political.   Because issues are about people - and people are sacred. But the politic ship is messy and broken and angry and riddled with agendas – and to an average American woman (me) it feels like we're raising NO ONE up to adjust the sails.  I know those good leaders are out there. We just can’t seem to get them into enough places of leadership that make an impact.    

Mothers losing their children isn’t about politics. 

Mothers losing their children is a siren wailing that our humanity is bleeding. 

I don’t want to be a better liberal or conservative, or a better Political Party Member.  I want to be a BETTER HUMAN BEING.  I want to be a person in the world who sees the lost and the last and the least of these precious people – the little people.  Children who need adults for help.  The adults who need other adults to speak up and make waves.

I know it’s possible to love God and simultaneously hate him for breaking your heart.  Just like it is possible to love people and simultaneously hate them for breaking the world at the same time too. Not the kind of hate that embitters you towards God or towards people… the kind of holy rage that boils up inside you and blinds your eyes with tears until you turn it into fuel to get your boots on the ground and do something about it. 

I am just one person.  And it all feels so big.  

What can I do?

Our friend Katie marches for babies.  I can’t quite do that yet, I don’t know why and can’t even really explain.  My muddy loss garbage makes it hard.  But she marches and we write checks.  It’s what we can do. 

I can ask hard questions of myself and press on my own uncomfortable thoughts.  I can stay in a place of humility and be willing to learn.  I can admit that maybe what I thought and did and said before was wrong, and start listening to people who are doing it right.  My polite silence was a chicken card I can’t keep playing anymore.

There are mothers losing their children every day.  To malnutrition, to poor care, to lack of money and education, to disease, to unhinged school shooters, to abuse, to racists, to bullies, to shame, to addiction.  I can’t understand it.  I will NEVER understand it.  So until I can get these blurry tears out of my eyes and figure out how to turn them into fuel to get my own boots on the ground, I will support the people who are already there. 

  • I will work hard to earn and save money so we can write the check.
  • I will socially distance and wear a mask so we don’t spread the virus.
  • I will teach my children that every human being is created in the image of God, who loves us fiercely and unconditionally.  No matter how badly we muck things up down here.
  • I will teach my children that we are only as happy as our saddest friend.  We are only as healthy as our sickest friend.  We are only as lucky as our unluckiest friend.
  • I will teach my children that nothing, NOTHING, gives them cause to mistreat or abuse another human being.  They and they alone are accountable for their behavior and choices.
  • I will teach my children that when we find ourselves saying “somebody should do something about that,” WE are that somebody.

There is a mother who lost her son, while he was out for a jog.  I don’t dare assume the arrogance to throw judgement or a political ax or an opinionated slant on this, because that statement is fact: There is a mother who lost her son, while he was out for a jog.

I am a mother who lost her son.

I am a mother who lost her son, a mother who is willing to move mountains if it means another mother never needs know the pain of burying a child. 

I don’t know what that mountain-moving looks like yet for me.  This is all new.  It took me more than 10 years to gain even a little understanding my own pain, so as that blurry-eyed grief is turning to fuel I’m staying curious and humble and quiet (well not really anymore I guess) and I’m looking toward the people who are doing it right.  The people with their battle-worn boots on the ground.

Mothers Day

It’s no coincidence tomorrow is Mothers Day. 

There are no warriors on earth like mothers.  A mother will fight to the death for her children.  A mother will fight to the death for anyone’s children.   Because there’s this strange part of motherhood that makes you love something outside your body more than you love your own self.  I love something outside my body on earth and in heaven too, and that double-realm split magnifies my love a thousand times, stronger every day.  

I have learned the best way we can love our children is to love ourselves first.  And that means getting our mental junk right.  It means getting our heart stuff right.  It means being able to look ourselves in the eye and know that what we’re saying on the outside matches who we are on the inside. 

Because whatever’s bubbling up inside of us is what our children learn

I want my children to learn courage. Selflessness. Awareness. Care. Action. Faith. Wisdom. Humility. Perspective. Confidence. 

I want my children to learn love.  No exceptions.

Because God is love, and God loves his children.

That’s all of us.  No exceptions.

Happy Mothers Day, loves.

HP,

J

Prayer | when the answer is no
May 07

Prayer: when the answer is no

By Jessica Allen | Faith , Grief

Today I was supposed to be sharing a message with a community group for the National Day of Prayer. 

I am instead sipping coffee in my pajamas, and writing my speech anyway.  I have been pouting for 6 weeks (or is it 7?) but today seemed right to act like a grown-up and put pen to paper.  Or fingers to keys.

Back when the prayer breakfast event was confirmed, if you can believe it (and at this point a swarm of murder hornets has taught us that apparently anything is possible), I had determined the title of my message to be: When the Answer is No. 

The irony is not lost on me.

I have often shaken my fists at the sky since March, quite literally, most days, and spat words of frustration and complaint.  Even for a perpetually-positive person this season has been hard.  My little family and all the people we love have been blessed, safe, cozy, and content, but life moving forward still feels so uncertain, unsettling, uncomfortable, and admittedly full of mistakes.

Yet when I reflect on the most critical and pivotal seasons of my life, those seasons have all been uncertain, unsettling, uncomfortable, and full of mistakes.  And I keep making those mistakes over, and over, and over again, until I finally learn the lesson and get it right. 

Regarding the prayer breakfast event today, I was given a blank template to simply share my thoughts on prayer.  And as much as I envisioned I would present something dazzling and inspirational and uplifting, what kept coming back to me was the word NO.

Answers to prayer: yes, not yet, and no

I imagine we get lots of yeses to our prayers.  God says yes to our prayers for safety, health, comfort, provision, small wins, and sometimes even big giant victories that only God could pull off. 

We also get a lot of not-yets.  Our prayers full of dreams and good ideas, wonderful blessings that we’re simply not ready for.  When God says not yet maybe the timing isn’t right, we haven’t yet grown into the person ready to steward the gift, or maybe our prayer is the right idea but the wrong approach.  A yes to that prayer now would fall short of God’s master plan.  A not yet keeps us learning, stretching, trusting, and refining our minds and hearts.  Sometimes this not yet delay is confusing, and it hurts. 

But it never hurts as much as a no

Nothing has tested my faith and my understanding of God and myself as unrelentingly as my prayers which have been answered no

Perhaps some of those prayers are still not yets.  God willing, I still have much life left to live, and maybe some yeses will come, down the line once I’m ready to steward them well.

But as of this moment right now, two urgent, it’s-all-on-the-line prayers in my life have received an unequivocal, indisputable NO.  Capital N.  Capital O.  Period.  The end.  

The kind of no that changes your life forever.

When no changes the game

One of those prayers, actually a collection of millions of prayers, was for my infant son, who was born early and fought for every breath in his lungs for 17 days.  Our community wrapped their loving arms around us, and we all prayed together for his complete healing. 

But the answer was no.

Never in my lifelong Christian faith had it EVER occurred to me that such fervent faith would not be rewarded.  Not once did I wonder if my precious son wouldn’t live.  No doubt of God’s sovereignty and healing power ever entered my mind.  I believe in miracles, and in the God who designs them. 

But that miracle did not come to pass.

Our son died.  And I died a little, too.

Because what did it all mean now?  The prayers, the faith, the belief, the community, the scripture, the hope?  What happens when you give God everything you have, and it’s not enough?

In this broken mess of grief and rage, I had to learn that God is God, and I am not. 

God is God, and I am not

This platitude means nothing to a person in profound grief.  Only with the passing of time was I able to finally begin to comprehend it as a comforting truth. 

Because God is God, and I am not, he heard every single one of my prayers.  The polished and eager ones and the ones dripping in sorrow and hopelessness.

Because God is God, and I am not, he wept with me, knowing the excruciating pain of losing a son himself.

Because God is God, and I am not, he held me lovingly in the palm of his hand even as I screamed and cursed him for not saving my baby boy. 

Deal breaker

A prayer answered NO can feel like a deal-breaker.  And there is just so much “no” in the world right now.  Cancelled plans, threatened health, unstable finances, struggling relationships, and anxious futures.  No Tex-Mex dine-in.  No live church.  No hugs. 

Try telling an 8-year-old “NO, you can’t go out to the ice cream truck driving past the house.”

Or a ten-year-old “NO, you can’t hug your grandparents.” 

Or a toddler "NO, you can't have the scissors."

The scowling, bargaining, stomping, whining, and lingering pout are enough to push my mama feelings over the edge too.  I get it, kiddos.   

When God says no, maybe it feels cruel. 

It’s not because of anything you did or did not do. 

It’s not because God finds pleasure in disappointing you.  Or because you “deserved it.”

When God says no, it’s because he loves you SO MUCH that he’ll carry you through the most excruciating no along the path to an even more miraculous YES

A yes you couldn’t have imagined to pray for yourself, not in a million years.

Our adopted daughter was born just three days after our son’s original due date, in the same hospital room.  

Their stories are forever-entwined, a living, earthly and divine reminder that every heartbreaking no makes way for a humbling and glorious YES.  A walking promise that God will always give to us beauty for ashes.  

Learning from no

What no has turned your heart cold or calloused to God or to people?

What no have you been running from that still has truth to teach you?

What no is a gift in disguise, a letting go of things no longer serving you?

In this 2020 season of no, we have to ask ourselves: am I willing to make peace with this disappointment, allow it to teach me, shape me, refine me, and anchor my trust in the God who created me?

Am I willing to surrender to the idea that God is God, and I am not?

And do I have the audacity to believe that a future beyond my wildest imagination is still on the horizon, in the form of a yes I can’t yet see?

The power of prayer

I believe in the power of prayer.  I experience its comfort in pain or grief, in the repetition of scripture and holy promise.  I bear witness to its joy in celebration and praise, with a song on my lips and a lump in my throat.  I embrace prayer especially in confusion, anger, or fear, when the words are messy and hopelessly flawed. 

Mostly, I treasure prayer for the lifeline it is – a raw and honest, safe place to lay it all at the feet of the Lord.  All my joy, praise, confusion, anger, shame, pain, regret, grief, wonder, and love.  A place where I can admit I don’t have all the answers – or ANY answers at all.  Prayer is God’s gracious gift that allows us to come just as we are.  And absolutely contrary to the way of the world, communing in prayer with our Maker is most fulfilling when we take off our masks and superhero capes and filters.  No acting or pretending required.   

I was wrong

I have no remarkable words or routine in my prayer life.  Which doesn’t really sound great now that I’m “saying it” out loud. 

It’s just that I spent the first 26 years of my life praying perfect pristine prayers.  And it led me to a place where I assumed the answers would always be yes.

Yet in the darkest and most important moment of my life, the answer was NO.  

And it broke me.  That no fractured everything I thought I knew about God, prayer, myself, my faith, and my future. 

In the moment I couldn't understand.  But now I couldn’t be more grateful. 

Because all those things I thought I knew about God, prayer, myself, my faith, and future... I was wrong

Holy ground

God doesn’t reward perfection or poise.  He meets us right in the muck.  He’s in every tear that falls from our eyes and every gasping cry that escapes our lips. 

Through prayer, God invites us to tell the truth.  To him and to ourselves.  No matter how raw and ugly it feels. 

And as God answers our prayers one by one, he continues to weave the threads of our life into the masterpieces he’s designed them to be.  He needs not our help.  What he does require is our trust.  Our willingness.  Our hearts at the root of our authenticity. 

God’s mercies are new every morning, and his love endures forever.  I know this because I have tasted it.  My whole living life, your life is a testament to God's goodness and love.  He’s teaching us, with unrelenting patience for our flaws and unfathomable grace to forgive us until we get it right.  Over and over.  Again and again. 

He’s loving us closer to him as we transform into the marvelous creatures he planned us to be.  With every yes.  With every not yet

And perhaps even, especially when the answer is no.

HP,

J

8 tips to stay sane in quarantine | house with heart on door | heartfully present
Mar 24

8 ways to keep from going crazy in quarantine

By Jessica Allen | Life

My guess is socialdistancing and quarantine will be the ultimate hashtags of 2020.  COVID-19 is here, ready or not.  

We’re all cooped up right now, which feels frustrating, and we’re inundated with news and information in every portal, which feels scary.  We’re watching our friends span the spectrum of “this is ridiculous” and still gathering (STOP PLEASE!) to “this is incredibly serious" and hoarding supplies, which feels confusing.  And we’re all of a sudden work-from-home parents, homeschool teachers, 24/7 entertainers, and short-order cooks… which feels exhausting.

It all happened so fast.  We saw it coming and yet maybe didn't believe it.  And now here we are, getting new information dropped on us every day about closures and directives and policies.  Every one of us is doing our best, juggling what we can, dropping some things, mastering others.  Eating weird snacks at weird times of the day.  Consuming too much social media.  Wondering why we were supposed to buy all that toilet paper.  Trying to keep a calm and orderly home and routine.  (Or maybe you already gave that up.  I can't remember the last time my big children took a bath.)

When the bomb drops

Many years ago, I was put on abrupt bed rest with my son.  He was showing signs of preterm birth, like our first son.  I went in for a routine visit on Maundy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter.  It’s one of our most involved church services of the year (I’m the orchestra conductor, a job I absolutely love) and I was looking forward to donning my gorgeous black suit and serving in music ministry with my people that evening.

Instead, I was sent home with strict instructions to lay flat and don’t move.  For 6 weeks. 

I wish I could tell you I handled it with grace and maturity.

That would be a lie.

I cried in the office.  I negotiated with my doctor, promising I would sit on a chair for that evening’s service, and then rest like a good patient afterwards.

She (and my husband) gave me a kind and very emphatic “no.”  Hers was more kind.  His was more emphatic.

So we drove home where I immediately curled up on the couch and pouted.  Jack left to go get some groceries (and surprised me later that afternoon with a brand new cozy recliner, which still rocks in our nursery today). 

I survived that bed rest experience, delivered my healthy baby boy right on time, lived to tell the tale, and of course looking back that 6 weeks of bed rest wasn’t that bad.  It was hard.  But I made it.  

Looking back on my own mini-quarantine

As we’re facing a likely quarantine announcement this week, I can feel my mind and spirit “remembering” what it was like staring down the barrel of a lonely season stuck inside away from so much of what I love. 

And that “remembering” feels like…

  • Pouting
  • Anxiety
  • Sadness (low-lying circumstantial depression)
  • Fear

Isolation is a killer.  Well, not exactly.  Isolation makes us vulnerable mentally, emotionally, spiritually.  And the enemy wiggles in wherever he can to start spreading lies faster than any virus.  Here’s a little excerpt from my book on this topic, which for me can still loom very large during challenging seasons like this one:

“Lies… masquerade as scary thoughts the enemy whispers when your heart is despairing.  The once you’re used to the whisper, he talks so softly the decibel shift is imperceptible.  And from there he gets louder and louder, little by little, until all that’s filling your head is a relentless screaming stream of lies.  This is depression.  Your brain over time becomes convinced of a reality that just isn’t so.  …. You can survive, it, and in order to do so, you have to recognize it and get help.”  - Joy Comes in the Mourning

I’ll get to “things that actually help” in just a minute.  The biggest boost, though, is finding a sense of purpose

Sense of purpose during quarantine

I believe, because I have experienced it in my own life countless times, that human beings can navigate any crisis - even a homebound quarantine - as long as we keep a strong and clear sense of purpose. 

When we have purpose, when we know where we’re going, it’s easier to wake up in the morning and get pointed in the right direction.  In contrast, if we have no purpose, no aim, and no direction, we spin in circles, wandering aimlessly, unclear on who we are or what we’re doing.  This aimlessness is, in my non-licensed opinion, a huge part of why people feel and get and stay depressed.  (I am also of the opinion that depression is real, sometimes its chemical grip on your brain is so intense, and healthy people get help in the form of medication and/or counseling.)

When routines shift and roles change, the hats we wear look different.  It’s easy for me to sink into a mental hole where my most prevalent thought is: “what’s the point, anyway?”  I know this about myself.  I hate this about myself.  But I recognize it now, and can offset it with some very simple redirections. 

Here’s what I learned on bed rest, and what I’m using now to keep my mind in check:

8 Things I Learned on Bed Rest (that kept me from going crazy)

1. This virus and quarantine season is temporary.

We’re protecting our community.  This quarantine goes beyond our individual selves and honors the most vulnerable in our midst… although the way this virus is spreading, we’re all at risk.  Staying home, washing hands, flattening the curve… these precautions are protecting our loved ones as well as the medical community.  The quicker we can stop the spread, the faster our local economies will recover.  The sooner people will be back to work.  The sooner we can let our children out of the house.  The sooner we can get back together with our friends.  We are doing this to stop the spread and protect each other.  This is temporary.  It won’t last forever.  Not if we all do our part. 

2. Remember WHY you do what you do.

Are you a teacher?  A parent?  An essential employee still working?  An employee on furlough?  An entrepreneur or business owner?  A servant in ministry, social work, politics?  A medical professional?  What you do matters.  Even still.  Perhaps now more than ever.  Your work in the world is important.  The people whose lives you touch are depending on your service.  What you offer in service to others cannot be done by anyone else, because there is only one you.  Keep your purpose clear.  Write it on the bathroom mirror and repeat it to yourself daily (100 times if you have to) so you don’t forget.  You're doing the most important work right now, which is supporting the entire community.  You're kind of a big deal.

3. Treat yo’self!

While I don’t recommend eating an entire box of Snickers ice cream bars daily (I HAVE NEVER DONE THAT, why would you ask?), find joy in the little things.  Cook a great meal.  Exercise where/how you can.  Dig in the dirt.  Watch the movie list you’ve never gotten to.  Paint your nails a color you’d never wear to work.  There’s no sense making a challenging season even harder by trying to diet, deprive, or ration yourself out of the things you enjoy.

4. Pick a goal.

On bed rest, my goals were limited.  My #1 goal was my purpose, which was to grow a big fat squishy healthy baby.  But beyond that, I had to get creative.  I decided to pick up a few fun goals: grow my fingernails out, organize my (self-owned) business office systems, get plenty of good sleep, and drink a certain amount of water every day.  Those little goals and check-boxes gave me a sense of accomplishment, which kept my confidence and spirits up.  A bit of unsolicited advice: don't make a cleaning goal right now.  You will feel immediately defeated.  

5. Be honest about how you think and feel.

Journal.  Talk it out.  Draw or create.  Be HONEST.  Especially if you serve in any kind of leadership, and guess what?  That’s EVERY ONE OF US.  You lead your family, your work, your ministry.  Strong people ask for help, they admit when they need a break, and they take care of themselves so they can pour into others.  We’re useless to the people we love if we burn out in exhaustion, stress, anxiety, or depression.  

**If your home is filled with uneasiness of strained relationships right now, my prayers are with you.  Keep safe zones – a conflict-free physical space, a quiet “personal corner” you can retreat to, and some healthy boundaries on time/place for tough conversations.  If you need help, reach out. 

6. Fill your mind and ears with positive voices.

Podcasts, social accounts, books, TV shows, radio… it’s all a choice.  You control the dial.  What’s feeding your mind and soul every day?  If it makes you anything other than confident, stretched, curious, proud, present, informed, and optimistic, cut it out of your media diet.  The comparison game is a huge temptation right now since we're all so plugged into social media.  Give yourself the gift of some "unfollows."  They'll never know.  But it'll change your life for the better.  

Nobody has it "better" or "worse" than anyone else right now.  The absolute unkindest thing you can do is leverage your situation against someone else's to try and make yourself feel better, more pulled-together, smarter, healthier, etc.  It will ultimately just make you feel worse.  With comparison comes judgement, and with judgement comes resentment, and resentment puts chains on your spirit.  Set yourself free.  

7. Keep a loose and forgiving routine.

Self care is important.  Routine is good for humans, even and especially during something stressful like a quarantine.  Brush your teeth.  Put on your face (and clean clothes).  Take breaks.  Give yourself something to look forward to.  Chew and taste your food sitting down at normal mealtimes so you don’t starve or overeat.  Take a nap.  Work in pockets and break it up with a dance party or phone call to your friends or a yoga session.  Go to bed when it gets dark.  Wake up when it gets light.  This season is temporary, remember?  So you may as well give yourself the gift of a healthy and self-loving routine.

Now is also a good time to release some unrealistic expectations of what this homebound season is going to be like.  You'll set yourself free.  

8. Keep perspective and stay in gratitude.

When your sense of purpose stays clear, and you remember this is only temporary, you’ve paved the path for a grateful heart.  This quarantine is rocking our whole world but ultimately, we’re so blessed.  We have the food we need, the supplies to last, our health, our homes, our people, our careers (no matter how different they look right now), our leaders, our friends, and our futures.  

Feel your feelings... and then keep on keepin' on

On days you feel gripped by fear, because there will be days like that cooped up inside during a quarantine, feel what you feel, acknowledge it, tip your hat to it, and then walk away.  Shoving those feelings away does not work.  They will just come back later, even bigger and uglier.  Once you’ve acknowledged how you think and feel, choose a moment of gratitude.  What is blessing your life right this moment?  A pity party can last 4 minutes or 4ever.  I’ve done both. 

When my bed rest was over, I promise you I forgot about the challenges immediately.  I was so excited to be back in the world, back to myself, back in service to the people I love most. 

I didn’t think about the pain of bed rest again until last week, when those same feelings started creeping back in at the first mention of a possible quarantine.  We will all survive this.  And when it’s over, we’ll likely never take for granted another gathering, meeting, assignment, errand, or conversation.  We’ll look back on this in a year and laugh (maybe??!) about how bummed we were that we had to spend time resting inside. 

Our grandparents fought for global peace in World War II.  We’re being asked to stay inside and watch movies.  We can do this.  

Stay home.  Wash your hands.  Take care of yourself.  Love your people.  Keep your purpose clear.  And never forget how truly blessed and fortunate and loved you are. 

HP,

J

Monkey Mind | Elephant Rocks | childhood memory | unrest | thought life | reflection | personal growth
Mar 10

Restless thoughts and Elephant Rocks: a true childhood story

By Jessica Allen | Life

I got laid up with a nasty cold after an entire week of “writers block.”  But it’s never really writers block.  It’s monkey mind; restless thoughts gone completely unchecked.

When there’s something chewing at my mind or my spirit, I go quiet. Because when the inside noise gets loud, I can only make sense of it when I quiet the outside noise first.  I love connecting with people yet my most recharging gift to myself is time alone.  This frustrates me, because in a world with a husband, two young children, a toddler,  2 businesses, and a ministry, “time alone” is harder to find than “jeans that fit” or “a unicorn.” 

I actually posted some of my finest literary work on social recently: There were five minutes when no one needed me for anything.  Then they did.  The end.  (A Short Story for Moms Everywhere.)  I enjoyed those 5 glorious minutes absorbing vitamin D because I am like a houseplant that wilts for lack of sunshine.

It's frustrating to have to constantly budget my schedule for “time alone.”  Yet as I’ve earned more lived years on the planet I’ve learned to respect myself enough to honor my own simple need for quiet.  I saw this the other day and laughed out loud: 

restless thoughts | that moment you turn down the radio so you can see better

I know I'm not the only one.

Our brains have limitations

There’s actual science behind this meme.  Our instinct to down the radio in order to see better is just one example of our brain’s natural biological response when we need to focus.  Eliminate one processing “task” from its list (listening to music and lyrics) and it performs better at the more important task you’re asking it to accomplish (finding the turn you’re supposed to make).  Essentially: limit one sensory intake and you heighten another.  

Mental multi-tasking is super bad for our brains.  It causes restless thoughts, stress, and actual physical damage.  

So last week my monkey mind was swinging its restless thoughts from the trees.  And it’s no giant surprise I got sick afterwards.  I hadn't taken the time to get quiet and sort through the mental maze, and that unresolved anxiety stressed me out.  THIS IS WHAT STRESS DOES.  Stress makes us sick, and the correlation between stress and illness/disease is staggering and scary.  Mental and emotional stress take a bigger toll than we realize.  We have got to slow down and take care of ourselves.  Nobody else is going to.  (Although this morning my husband took the baby to swim lessons and threatened to take all my devices with him so I would take a nap.  I did take the nap and if you heard the faint sound of angels singing it was from my house.  The nap was glorious.)

I woke up with images from my childhood in mind.

Nostalgia

Isn’t it funny what we hold onto?  What sticks in our memory banks for unknown reasons, and then resurfaces when we least expect it?

I went to sleep with crazy restless thoughts, but what I woke up with is a peaceful and relatively frequent memory.  One with my grandparents when I was very young. 

My granddad was a Methodist minister in Missouri, a devoted servant of the church and impassioned voice for justice during his civil-rights-era ministry.  My grandmother served with him in every supporting role imaginable.  Her series of memoirs, beginning with Preacher’s Wife, is a historical and family treasure; in her books she shares stories of growing up as the only daughter of the owner of her rural town’s General Store and then her adult life as a wife and mother.  On holidays or other special occasions, she still sends written stories for us to add to our collections – most recently, a story about how my grandfather (newly deployed in WW2) still managed to send her flowers on Valentines Day. 

These stories are treasures. 

Homestead

I have sweet and special childhood memories of visiting “Homestead” in Terre du Lac, Missouri, nestled down a white-rock gravel road covered in Queen Anne’s Lace flowers, just a short walk or drive away from two small lakes we loved to swim and play in during the summer.  My parents’ retreat, Egret Acres, is modeled after Homestead – cut into the side of a hill so only the 2nd story is visible from the driveway, and the “downstairs” actually appears as though it’s underground.

My memory serves that we usually visited only in the summer, usually via road trip through the gorgeous Ozark mountains.  My granddad tended a beautiful vegetable garden in the front yard.  Fireflies came out at dusk and we never got tired of chasing them; a welcome contrast from Texas mosquitos.  

We played croquet (or some game that utilized croquet equipment) in the side yard and down the giant hill the house sat on.  Our favorite game trick was to use the cylindrical black plastic gutter pipe to redirect the croquet balls in wacky directions, and if you angled the pipe right down the hill, the balls would take a flying leap over anything you put at the bottom.  No one dared run down the hill though, because at the end were thorny brambles so thick you'd get your clothes stuck inside.  And we had no idea what lay hidden in the forest behind them.  

There was a creepy house across the street we thought was haunted, although in my adult life I realize it was probably just occupied by a hoarder.  They had a screened-in porch that contained all kinds of weird items, the most visible of which was a vacuum cleaner that for some reason felt very scary to me as a kid. 

Family memories

Whether it was just my little family of origin visiting, or my mother’s 3 siblings (and our 7 other cousins) joined us, there was always something fun to do.  We churned homemade ice cream on the downstairs porch, put on plays and dressed up in my grandmother’s square-dancing costumes, and listened to her play piano in the basement.  Every note was right in her head and if I could ever invent something magic, I’d invent something to unlock and store her mind forever.

We played Pit around the kitchen table with the leaves put in and rocked in the wooden porch swing piled on top of each other.  We marveled at the giant glass General Store jar that held Pensacola sand and shells and tried not to smash our fingers in the roll-top desk.  I don't ever remember watching TV.  We just played.   

My grandparents had that classic beautiful amber-colored glassware and my grandmother was (is) an incredible cook.  I can still remember the way the house smelled.  I have such good memories there.  

Elephant Rocks

One summer when we were visiting, my grandparents took my sister and me to a place called Elephant Rocks.  It’s a geological state park that features billion-year-old boulders standing end to end, like elephants.  There’s a ton of neat mining and railroad history there, which of course we sisters did not care one bit about.  We were fascinated by the giant rocks.  

We arrived and ate my grandmother’s ham salad sandwiches for lunch and then set out exploring in nature’s beautiful noisy quiet.  Right near our picnic there was a wide and shallow stream with a rocky riverbed that had stepping stones to a giant boulder right in the middle of the water.  I’m sure we were scolded for venturing in, up, and on top of the rock, but this is the memory and image cemented in my mind.

This picture pops into my head often and after a week of restless thoughts and now illness, it visited again today.  I think it shows up as an oasis, a peace offering, or maybe just a clear SOS from my inner psyche begging me to calm the $&%@ down. 

Quiet the restless thoughts and find the lesson

If we’re willing to look for it, there’s significance everywhere, and in everything.  I love when God uses the simplest things to open my eyes: this sweet little memory that bubbles up like spring water even into my adult life.  

Am I the rock?  Am I the climber?  Am I the water?

Am I the rock, solid and secure, confident and strong, immovable and unchanging?

Am I the climber, adventurous and unafraid, willing and eager, tossing caution to the wind, eager to see the world from new heights?

Am I the water, steady and constant, clear and calm, quietly reshaping and renewing my landscape as I go?

I’m all of them, I think.  So are we all.  Each in our own time, in different seasons. 

I wish I had a picture of Elephant Rocks for you.  It’s stunningly beautiful.  In the words of my good friend, “Google that $#!%.”  

Interestingly and coincidentally, My mom has been sending me old pictures frequently.  Funny; yesterday she sent one of my Grandmother holding G as a newborn, and today came one of my Grandfather holding my 3-year-old hand in front of the waves in Pensacola (where we were supposed to be for Spring Break this week until the weather turned awful).  

There is nothing restless in those two pictures.  Quite the opposite actually: these two photographs are the most beautiful illustrations of peace, love, comfort, relaxation, contentment, presence, and joy.

Sort through the discomfort

As Lent begins, I’m grateful for the opportunity to take stock of my life and my faith.  This past week has been uncomfortable, but the good kind of uncomfortable.  The kind of uncomfortable that taps at you until you stop to pay it the attention it deserves.  For me that discomfort usually means I need to take inventory of my thoughts, or reconsider something I was certain I knew.  (This requires awareness, humility, understanding, compassion, and often an apology.  I am terribly bad at all of these things.)  

Or sometimes that discomfort is pressing me to release something I’m holding onto in my heart that is keeping me from peace in my relationships.  (And this requires honesty, spoken words, admission of hurt, request for forgiveness or reconciliation. I am even WORSE at these things.  Speaking up for my own feelings feels incredibly scary.  What if no one cares?  Or worse, what if they say “no?”)

Our minds and bodies and souls are incredible creations.  They know before we do when something is wrong.  Ignoring them only causes us pain, sickness, heartache, and creates obstacles in the way of creativity and peace.  We can’t create anything good out of chaos.  Restless thoughts don't make for easy reading.  And therein lies my case of writer’s block. 

Listen to your thoughts

I don’t really know what was causing my monkey mind.  Maybe a wild schedule, or some old dusty skeletons that tried to come play.  (Note: 10 days have now passed since I originally wrote this piece, and I have realized EXACTLY what restless thoughts were - and still are - chewing on my internal wiring; that's a different story for another day.) 

I’ll continue to listen patiently for the right answer and learn from its whispering.  And in the meantime, I’ll keep drinking hot tea and doing my part to shine light into my own little corner of the world while I’m working on “homework” for two big upcoming projects: one on prayer and one on spiritual leadership within the family.  You know, little light topics.  Send cookies.  

HP,

J

Ash Wednesday | Lent | dust | faith | grief |
Feb 26

To dust we shall return

By Jessica Allen | Faith , Grief

I am no stranger to ashes.

I whisper a love song to the ashes of the bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh every time I leave the church.  Those precious ashes of mine, tucked behind a marble wall, settled in peace.  

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the holy Lenten season.  A day to remember that from dust we are made, and to dust we shall return.  A day to reflect upon the sin that separates us from God and His infinite grace to wash it away and love us back to Himself.  

The miraculous mercy that grants me another day on the earth is a mystery to me; an undeserved and wonderful gift.  It is a marvel to me that a person can rise from the ashes of heartbreak and death (mind, body, soul) and come to thrive in joy and love.  

Repentance

As I sat in our chapel this morning, reflecting upon my own sin, it occurred to me that for maybe the first time, I did not feel immediately compelled to catalog every last sin I've ever committed.  It caught me off guard, actually, that my first admission of guilt wasn't my most obvious and grievous sin against God and my husband.   

What that tells me is that not only has God forgiven me, but I've forgiven me, and my husband has forgiven me, and (possibly most astounding of all) I've fully accepted that forgiveness with no further feelings of guilt or shame.  

It took time.  The realization I had this morning was nearly four years in the making.  But consciously accepting forgiveness, in every way?  This is freedom.   And we can all have it.  If you're still in the weeds, stumbling through to acceptance and forgiveness (and acceptance of your own forgiveness), keep going.  Do the work, stay the course, keep the faith.  And if you need help, turn to someone who can walk with you each step of the way, reminding you who (and whose) you really are.  

Despite the sweet freedom I felt and experienced today, of course there is much other sin to reflect upon; namely pride and ego, and how impatient and untrusting I can be of God's plan and timing for my life.  This is the purpose of Lenten sacrifice, why we "give up" things during Lent: it's to "die" to our own selfish desires and instead turn our hearts back to the One who created them in the first place.     

A simple Lenten practice 

This year, I’m following Sarah Bessey’s Forty Simple Practices for Lent.  The goal of the practice is mindfulness, consistency, devotion, and simple sacrifice.  I stumbled across it by accident, and it just felt right.  If you’d like to join me, here’s the link to the post describing it all, including a beautiful printable one of her readers created.  I double-side printed and stapled mine, and tucked it inside my purse to carry with me: 40 Simple Practices for Lent

Beautiful things out of the dust: the gifts we need for abundant living

We are all miracles, you and me.  We're given breath and life for this exact moment in time, to accomplish exactly our own divinely ordained purpose, fully equipped by God with all we need to do our work in the world.

This life is fleeting; we're here just for a moment.  The time we have is too short to cloud over with guilt, shame, regret, anxiety, depression, or fear.  This is the perfect season to intentionally fill our minds and hearts with all that will combat those demons: forgiveness, hope, light, acceptance, trust, and peace.

Our lives are worth the pursuit and acceptance of those gifts.  They’re already ours… we just have to invite them in, embrace them, and believe we deserve them.  Because we do.  We not only deserve these beautiful gifts; we need them to live fully into the abundant life to which God calls us.

Because I, like you, intend to use my one wild and precious life for goodness; for something wonderful, until my final moments when I join my little one (and all those who have gone before me) and return to the dust.

Thank you God for your provision, your mercy, your grace, your sacrifice, and your limitless love.

HP, J <3

P.S. 

I’ll be living here on the blog, on our Happy Mail Club (subscribe and come join us already!) and our Heartfully Present Facebook page for Lent, where I hope we’ll keep the conversations going.  I’m committing to intentional daily writing and prayer and connected conversations... hopefully with you.   

stress of parenting on marriage
Feb 11

The stress of parenting on marriage

By Jessica Allen | Family , Marriage

The stress of parenting on marriage is insane.  Luckily, a good marriage will bear a lot of weight.  Its trunk is made to bend, sway, take on storms and the occasional freeze.  A good (and maybe even a mediocre) marriage will survive all these stress factors.  A struggling marriage might snap as it succumbs to the pressure. 

Ours broke under the stress of parenting (among other factors).  But we're growing back stronger than before.  

I had the funniest encounter at the jeweler.  I took my wedding ring in for repair after noticing I was missing a small diamond out of the setting (I was actually missing two).  After noticing my toddler covered in lollipop sticky and realizing that my ring was filthy and in disrepair, the jeweler diplomatically encouraged me, “You know, you might choose to put this on only when you leave the house.  Having children is really hard on a wedding ring.” 

I just started laughing.  Yes, ma’am, having children IS hard on a wedding ring.  Having children is hard on a marriage.  Having children is hard on your mental health, physical health, financial health, life goals, career goals, time management, emotional management, kneecaps, pets, countertops, wall paint, and car seats. 

Having children is hard on a marriage 

It’s the most incredible gift, to be entrusted by God (and in our case, another human family) to love and raise these tiny little people in the way of Our Lord.  To protect them, teach them, model for them, trust them, and finally release them to make their way in the world.  It makes my heart ache just thinking about it.

But LORD ALMIGHTY these children are hard on our marriage. 

We’re just so tired and stretched in every direction all the time. 

There are days where the sheer number of “things” I have to coordinate pushes me to near-or-actual tears.  And right behind that lump in my throat is the voice of the guy downstairs who loves to feed me B.S. like “you know, you don’t have any business having personal or professional goals right now.  This motherhood stuff is too hard.”

That is a lie.  And a whole different story for a whole different day.

But the point is that being a parent can drain the life, energy, spirit, drive, and confidence right out of a person.

That is not the kind of “me” I want to bring to our marriage.  And that’s not the kind of “him” I need him to bring to our marriage either. 

We’ve seen each other through the worst versions of ourselves, so I know we can make it through literally anything.  But as a general rule, we need the best versions of each other to make this circus run right. 

Good things we do to reduce the stress of parenting on our marriage:

  • Put our phones down when we talk to each other
  • Ask each other how we can help/support the other
  • Schedule a regular date night
  • Take care of our individual and collective physical health
  • Get enough sleep
  • Set boundaries with our work
  • Set boundaries with our friends/extended families
  • Set boundaries with our children
  • Read good brain food and talk about ideas instead of people or problems

Kids… even the world’s sweetest kids… wreck all of that.  The stress of parenting on marriage is no joke.  These kids need everything.  There is So. Much. Need.  Permission slips.  Water bottles.  Clean jerseys.  Birthday party presents.  Snacks.  Bigger underwear.  A bath.  A bandaid.  A signature.  A chauffeur.  A hug every 45 minutes in the middle of the blessed night.  (None of this is a complaint, and I wouldn’t wish one single bit of it away.  It just wears on a body!)

And our children are still little enough that their needs and problems are little.  I pray every day that as they get bigger, and their problems get bigger, that God will see us all through.  I have dear friends with teens and grown children and real big problems.  Life-changing stuff that brings true worry and heartache.  I can only imagine the stress that kind of parenting has on marriages.  Someday we will be there too and I will realize yet again that I don’t know jack squat about this marriage and parenting thing.  

We’re all just trying our best.  And when we're stretched to the max, something's gotta give.  

Bad habits we slip into when we’re exhausted from the stress of parenting:

  • Scrolling social media instead of talking to each other
  • Picking at the other person’s flaws or mistakes
  • Losing our senses of humor/snapping at each other
  • Letting the kids’ schedules trump our date night without rescheduling
  • Staying up too late, sleeping in, and skipping coffee club (this is usually the first red flag waving)
  • Overcommitting our calendars to work obligations
  • Skipping sit-down meals where we pray together
  • Assuming the other one heard/understood/received our communication
  • Binge watching bad TV or get sucked into politics (one of us loves the fire of political debate and one of us wants to cry over all the discord)
  • Failed connection in every area (mind, body, and soul)

Combine all ingredients, mix until volatile, and bake at a million degrees until it explodes.

No marriage can sustain that kind of unmitigated stress.

Which leads me back to our small-ish children: I’m a big fan of empowering our children to do just about any age-appropriate task they can, even down to their own laundry and simple supervised cooking.  They will likely make mistakes and as they are learning, the mess they often make in the process creates more work for me in the right-now.  But I am confident it will pay out in the long run.  (she says as she cries and dust-busters laundry detergent granules off the soles of her feet and scrubs peanut butter off the counter which is what likely knocked the diamonds out of her wedding ring in the first place)

Teach a kid to fish…

I can hear this in my mother’s voice: I am not my children’s maid and I am not their personal assistant.  I want these little people to make a way in the world and the best gift I can give their future spouses is an independent, capable, responsible human who sees a need and takes the initiative to meet it.  If they are capable of a task, I will ask them to do it, even if I need to trip around the misplaced shoes until they get home from school.  Not for a dollar, not for a sticker, but because we all live in this house and I expect it of them.  (For the record, I am absolutely not above bribery and incentives.  They work.)

This is not for the sake of standing on principle.  Rather I’m trying to help our children develop simple mindfulness – and confidence in their own abilities - that will eventually make adult life much more pleasant for them and everyone else in their space.  It’s work on the front end to teach kids how to do stuff but I’m playing the long game. 

Noble pursuit, sure.  But additionally, selfishly, I need their help.  Because when I am exhausted, I get frustrated, and when I get frustrated, I snap. And the first person I’m going to snap at is the one I’m married to.  He’s a safe snapping place.  Thank GOD.  But he shouldn’t always have to be, and I shouldn't have to be his easy target either.   The stress of parenting on our marriage shouldn't push either one of us to a meltdown.

When mama ain’t happy…

Everybody in this house has to pull their weight.  Because I can’t pull it all by myself.  You know that saying, when mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy?  It’s not because mama’s a miserable nag.  It’s because she’s flat out exhausted

The stress of parenting on our marriage is real but it doesn’t have to own us. 

The cost for the diamonds I needed replaced in my ring was so minimal it wasn’t even worth filing the insurance claim. 

The cost for peace in my marriage is so minimal – intentional time, intentional effort, intentional attention to what’s good between us.  Refusing to believe the lie that “I have to do everything around here.”  They’re not going to do it as well as I would.  But guess what?  I didn’t have to do it… and that leaves room in my mind and my heart for more rewarding things.  For snuggles, and compliments, and reading, and jokes, and peaceful bedtime, and good sleep, and coffee club, and presence, and real connection, and a marriage I love. 

HP,
J

PS: I shared a candid video of the jeweler story in our Facebook group.  Have you found us yet?  Come breathe fresh air at Heartfully Present on Facebook and @heartfullypresent on Instagram.  

  

Suggestion box | affair in marriage
Feb 04

Suggestions please

By Jessica Allen | Marriage

There’s this thing I think I’m supposed to write but I don’t want to do it.  I DON’T WANNA.

But things don’t go well for me when I run away.  To be fair, I reject ideas all the time, which I’m sure (in the words of Liz Gilbreth) get passed along graciously to the next willing steward of the gift. 

However, from time to blessed time God and the universe reject my rejection and instead relentlessly nudge me until I can either say yes or fall off the cliff I’m backing up towards. 

The last time I said no, I fell off that proverbial cliff, and wound up crying in the pool on my 36th birthday.  Like winners do.

So I think I’m supposed to write about this thing but I’m scared to do it.  I’m scared because I know it will force me to touch some wounds that are still tender and unearth some skeletons that weren’t even pleasant the first time around. 

So here’s where I need some help.  Your help. 

Just so I’m clear here and that there are witnesses: I am tentatively saying yes to God and the universe and I am willing to dip a toe into this project if and only if they (and you) will help me with the process.

The thing I think I am supposed to write is how to leave an affair behind.

I have been afraid to even tell Jack about this but I finally did and he was exceedingly gracious about it. His humble suggestion for the project title is “Why My Affair Was F***ing Awesome” but that’s not A) appropriate, B) my tone/style at all, or C) what this project is about.  I told him not to worry; that’s actually a pretty bitchin’ post title for some time down the road.  Or maybe a companion piece to this one. 

But what I think I’m supposed to tackle is slightly different.  This would be written from the betrayer’s perspective.  The twisted path through a marriage that broke, the distorted reality of the affair itself, the loss of love in both relationships, turning your heart back to your spouse (I think this is the most important key part), and how to rebuild - or build anew - a marriage and a life you truly love.  This piece would cover some big topics like trust, communication, money, relationships, faith, sex, family, therapy, honesty, shame, things that still hurt your heart and haunt your mind…. you name it, it’s part of the muck of an affair. 

I don’t talk a lot about the a-word here in this blog partly because it’s really personal and embarrassing and partly out of respect for all parties involved.  We’re all still healing and trying to find peace and closure and life on the other side.  Most importantly, it’s not just my story to tell and it’s not my place to put that story out there.  I learned the hard way there are people who will abuse it, distort it, use it as a weapon, seek personal gain from it, and judge unfairly because of it.  So I’m not going to allow that story to be exploited or used for harm, and that means keeping it sealed in the vault. 

But how my family and I healed from the experience is my story to tell and I think it’s an important one.  I cannot tell you how many people I’ve encountered who’ve said some version of “we just don’t love each other anymore like we used to.” 

I started to believe that was reason enough to quit.

But what I’ve learned is that you really can choose to turn your heart around.  It is a choice.  If you truly want to, you can turn your heart back towards the person you promised it to in the first place.  It takes two people (and the power and grace of God) to repair something as devastating as an affair, and it starts with eliminating any other options – especially the option of another person. 

I remember sobbing on my hands and knees in our counselor’s office, as she asked Jack to step outside after a particularly gnarly session.  The look on his face was priceless.  Kind of a mix of “Oh, $%&@” and “Now what do I do?”

She said, in no uncertain terms, “None of this is ever going to work if you aren’t willing to let him go.”  (Him being the other man.)

I dripped all over her floor and choked out, “BUT I DID.”

She let what felt like an eternity of silence pass and then gently replied, “No, you didn’t, and you know it.”  I just laid down on the floor and cried until there were no tears left.    

This pain of letting go is excruciating.  During that season of my life I felt like everything was one giant suffocating act of letting go, losing hold of the edge of that cliff one desperate finger at a time.  Everything I imagined my life would look like, everything I felt I needed and wanted and deserved, everything I ever dreamed for myself and my family, everything I thought I valued and would never betray… I had to let go of all of it.  And all that letting go felt impossible. 

I’ve never been a Marine but after reading a little about it (and subsequently having the craziest dreams later that night) I understand their process is to break you down through intense training and then push you to overcome your fears to become a warrior and a champion.  

This whole affair was kind of like that.  Except instead of running and pushups, my heart was ripped out of my chest and then sewn back inside.  It pushed me to my limit, broke me apart, and then built me up stronger, softer, more determined, and fearless.   

So after becoming a warrior for marriage and life and belief and redemption and faith, this running-scared feeling I have about writing this piece is starting to tick me off. 

This is why I need your help.  I guess what I’m asking here is twofold:

  • Would this piece – in any form – be something you see as helpful/beneficial for people healing from or facing an affair?  If so, what format would be most easily accessible and helpful – e-book, blog post, an actual book, article submitted to a larger forum i.e. Focus on the Family, etc? 
  • What questions or topics do you think could/should be covered to offer people a practical guide for focusing their minds and hearts and healing their marriages?  i.e. If you could ask me anything or learn anything from my experience, what would you want to know?  There’s much to learn even for people in healthy marriages or singles hoping to start out strong in a relationship. 


If you’d feel most comfortable sending me an email or a private message, please feel free.  Top Secret: Eyes Only.  This stuff isn’t easy, and sometimes it can feel really raw and embarrassing to ask about or talk about.  Similarly, if there’s a person you think might have valuable feedback to offer, I’d be so grateful if you’d share this with them. 

HP, and ever-grateful for you,

J

True Marriage Story | Marriage Help | Engagement ring
Jan 28

True Marriage Story

By Jessica Allen | Marriage

We've had a typical morning for us... coffee club a few minutes before the kids wake up, car line in our most fancy clothes (duds and my cozy robe), and dishing the day's agenda in the kitchen before we open our laptops and get to work.  Him at the kitchen table and me on the living room floor with the baby, with my computer wedged as far back as the couch will allow to keep the keys away from his slobbery little fingers. 

marriage | husband and wife | black and white

Ain't marriage grand?

Today I'm regrouping after a horrible night's sleep (I see you, teething) and resetting my mind.  Because once or twice a semester we get to share our story with a group of couples committed to growing their marriages through a program called ReEngage, and tonight's the night.  All ages, all stages; some are the most fulfilled they’ve ever been and some are there as a last-ditch effort to save their relationship. 

We’ve been in both those places.

Our marriage story is hard to tell but it’s important to share. It’s good for us to remember where we came from and where we still want to go.  And in the version we share at ReEngage, there is no black and white filter.  We share the whole technicolor version.  No edits.  No cuts.  The whole true marriage story, from happy newlyweds to stress, finances, an affair, #btp, renewing our vows, starting over, and how each of our miracle children shaped and impacted our marriage along the way.

The ugly parts of the story are still cringy for me, and saying them into a microphone puts me so far out of my comfort zone I have to pretend nobody's there.  That's saying a lot for someone who puts her whole life out on the internet on a daily basis.  But we don't sugar coat anything.  We call it was it was, and describe in vivid detail how we got there, what happened, and how we came through it (by the grace of God).  

It was a bloody battle but the outcome was worth it. We’re different people now and the understanding/respect/love we cultivated is more than I ever dreamed for. (It’s still really hard sometimes... marriage is hard because we’re all hopelessly humanly flawed. I’m grateful for all we learned. It helps us when old wounds and patterns come haunting.)

If you’re even a little curious about our story or ReEngage itself, come sneak in the back tonight and check it out. You’ll at least hear a story that will make you feel a little better about your own life and choices. 😂 6:30 PM at The Woodlands United Methodist Church, in the Harvest worship space.  If your spouse won't come, it doesn't matter - Jack and I each attended alone on separate occasions before we could agree to go together.  

Healthy people get help. I admire anyone willing to work on themselves and work on their marriage. It’s not easy, and it takes time, but it’s totally worth it. If your marriage is in great shape, it’s the perfect way to connect and deepen your love.  (It's a built-in date night and free child care every Tuesday!) . And if you’re at that call-it-quits point, I promise this program is worth the try. At the very least, at the end, you’ll know you gave it all you had. 

If you’re not local, I bet there’s a ReEngage happening in your neck of the woods. And if not, search for a program that helps you connect with your spouse, whether it’s a weekend intensive, a great counselor to help you work through some tricky topics, or a group of friends that will hold you accountable and encourage you as a couple. Nobody gets through it alone.

You are the only one responsible for your one amazing life.  Your most important relationship is deserving of every ounce of loving care and attention you invest in it.  Your marriage story will be full of lots of bumps and cliff's edges.  And if it haven't seen them yet, I promise they'll surprise you when you least expect it.

Send up a little prayer today, if you're so inclined... that the marriage story we share tonight will be a light and a blessing to each person and couple listening.  And while you're at it, pray for your marriage too.  You're meant for a union that has lasting impact for good.

HP,

J

marriage habits | crash and burn | rocket ship crashing
Jan 14

Marriage Habits

By Jessica Allen | Marriage

Marriage is hard.  Did you know that?

So is life.  So is parenting.  Adulting is hard all on its own even without any of the other variables thrown in. 

No matter how much we evolve as creatures of faith and compassion, we are still - more than anything – creatures of habit. 

Ultimately this is a good thing.

Because habits are just skills.  And we can “level up” literally any moment we choose. 

You can train yourself to do just about anything.  From drinking more water to walking across hot coals, the human mind and body and spirit are capable of limitless achievement. 

Yet drinking more water and even walking across hot coals are a piece of cake compared to the habits we need in our relationships.

Contradicting yet complementary marriage habits we all need to develop:

Selflessness yet also self-respect.

Patience and persistence.

Strength and vulnerability.

Courage and trust.

Honesty and respect.

Kindness and boldness.

Love and boundaries.

Communication and restraint.

Awareness and maturity. 

Just to rattle off a few… and those are the easy ones.

Practice makes permanent (how to build a habit)

Fortunately, or frustratingly, however you choose to look at it, these habits are built by doing.  If you want more trust, you’re going to be thrown into situations that will require you to trust more, or be more trustworthy.  If you desire better communication, you’ll be faced with circumstances that call for deeper conversations. 

With intention and repetition, these habits can all be learned, practiced, and even taught to your children, becoming instilled within your family to shape for good every generation to come. 

And they all lived happily ever after.  The End.

Just kidding.

Because at some point, you’re going to blow it. 

The time machine

Every once in awhile in the dark corners of our marriage, there appears a door to a little time machine.  Ours pops open when we’re working through pain or hurt or lingering/unresolved issues. 

It feels really appealing to step inside that time machine.  It’s comfortable in there, albeit musty and stale.  It’s equipped with a (broken) communication system, an (outdated) atlas and an (obsolete) operations manual.  Systems we used to use before we knew any better.  Old marriage habits that served us until we outgrew them, at which point they almost crashed the whole ship.

I know that time machine is a hunk of junk.  Yet any time either one of us is sitting in pain, anger, resentment, shame, or regret, it’s really tempting to get back in. 

Bad marriage habits

We can hop inside and start blaming each other for our own personal unrest.  And we revert back to the way we used to talk to each other – dripping with sarcasm and arrogance (him) and martyrdom and condescention (me).  We can forget everything we’ve learned about forgiveness and grace and self-reflection and patience and kindness and actual communication and instead behave like selfish children. 

And then, before we know it, we’re swirling in the muck of our past, lost in space, out of touch with any reality we now know.  I can hear the words coming out of my 5-years-ago-me mouth, and I can see the look on his 5-years-ago face.

But we’re not those people anymore.  (Thank God and His infinite mercy.)

And we’re not going the same direction we were 5 years ago. 

So why do we keep getting back inside that time machine?

Because charting a new course is scary.

It’s hard to use new skills in a new way.  Habits are HARD to break.  And we’ve each lived a lifetime using those old, broken habits. 

He likes to annihilate his opponent with arguments and trick questions.

I like to play the martyr and slink away. 

So it’s harder for him, and not nearly as comfortable, to listen and respond with kindness and care instead of planning his next crushing blow in the debate to mow over the competition.  And it’s the most uncomfortable for him to entertain the idea that he might not be the “winner.”  (Helpful hint: there’s never one “winner” in marriage.  You either win together, or you lose together.  Strive not to fight each other but rather to fight for each other.)

It’s harder for me, and super uncomfortable, to stay in the fray and respond with clarity and bold honesty instead of using vague words and then walking away.  It’s most uncomfortable for me to say what I really need, instead of what I think will simply smooth over the fight.  (If this hits home, practice asking yourself these questions: what I am I really upset about, and what do I really wish could happen right now?  And then say it, like a grown-up person.  In actual words that other grown-up persons can understand because “clear is kind.”)

Get out of the past

We’ve spent some moments in the time machine this week, staring at old versions of ourselves. It stinks.  And it always takes a few days to recover from the experience; lots of reflection and practice for me to remember who I really am, for him to remember who he really is, and for us to remember who we really are as a couple. 

I like who we are now, and who we’re becoming.  I'm proud of the new, better, healthier marriage habits we're creating.  And I think we’re both ready to haul that time machine out to the curb.  (Don’t come get it.)

HP,

J

Waiting | Advent | meditation | devotional
Dec 17

Waiting: an Advent meditation

By Jessica Allen | Faith

A friend encouraged me to write on Advent this December, which seemed intriguing, and truthfully a little intimidating.  I’m never shy to share my thoughts on faith but I’m certainly no expert.   

Yet while I have no formal theology education, or a single certification or qualification, I have my own real-life experience with God.  All of us do.  I have gazed into God’s eyes through each of my brand new babies, screamed at Him through broken plates of grief and anger, and cried on His shoulder when He showed up in the form of a friend. 

I have also doubted His presence.  He has, at times, felt very far away.  I’ve felt abandoned.  Betrayed.  Suckered.  This is the reality of relationships, yes?  Even (especially) my relationship with my Maker.  

But I’ve learned that God's perceived absence or neglect is simply my own ignorance to the way He's moving in my life.  Because no matter how far away God seems, I have always been held.  Protected.  Provided for.  Entrusted with gifts I could never have dreamed of.  Blessed by miracles unexplained, and certainly undeserved.  

I’ve experienced those precious glimpses into the Divine not because I am special – I’m not - but because I look for them.

And when there are no glimpses to be found, I’ll wait until they appear.    

Advent History 101

Advent is the season before Christmas, created by the early church to help prepare for the birth of Jesus.  For a brief and interesting history lesson, click here

In short, Advent was a period of four to six weeks (commonly in the modern church it begins four Sundays before Christmas) intended for fast and prayerful preparation.  Similar to the observance of Lent, which is a similar window prior to Easter, Advent is a time to joyfully wait on the coming of Jesus. 

Advent is a time to wait.

But waiting isn’t easy.

As a general species, we don’t wait well.  We get itchy.  Impatient.  Frustrated.  And arrogant.  We grab the reigns, take the wheel, and forge ahead with confidence we can do it ourselves.  Not just in our own spiritual lives but also in our relationships, our careers, our passions, and our pursuits.

To our credit, it’s hard not to barrel through.  Admittedly, I don’t think I’ve ever found the right balance of entrepreneurial spirit (bulldog grit) and patiently waiting for God to direct my steps.  Those two ideas feel opposite to me… although I realize they are not.  I can follow God’s calling for my life and still work diligently to accomplish my (His) purpose.  Writing the book was the perfect sweet spot pairing of those two mindsets.  But that is a different conversation altogether.

Comfort vs. confidence 

I feel most comfortable when I lean to the bulldog side.  And I finally figured out why.  It’s because I feel powerful caught up in planning and doing.  Staying in motion, moving towards a goal, charting my course and checking it a million times to make sure every detail is still tightly gathered in my hands. 

Yet if I can pause to be still for even one small moment, I can see that the most miraculous shifts (miracles, even) have appeared when I have simply waited.  And that brings confidence that my life is heading in the right direction, guided by the right hand.  

Confidence beats comfort every time.   

Waiting isn’t easy...

As our marriage unraveled, my constant prayer was part statement, part request. 

“I will hold on one more day.  Show me what to do and give me the guts to do it.”

I wanted nothing more than to move.  Quite literally, actually.  But mostly I felt pressure to act, to empower myself, to make something happen in my own time.  To fix my marriage or end it. (Pro tip: the first mark of a poor plan is if it includes the words “me, my, or I” more than any other word.)

But after realizing my own flawed plan to fix my marriage myself fatally wounded a whole bunch of other people in the process, something (someone) held me back from any movement at all.

So I stopped dead in my tracks.  For nearly nine solid months.    

I drove people crazy in this standstill.  They did not – could not – understand why nothing was happening.  Why our marriage was sinking in the quicksand of anger and pain.  And in their frustration, many of them encouraged me to act.  Stillness bothers us. 

So be wisely discerning of who you allow to speak into your life.  Because during this standstill, I realize now there was only one voice I needed to listen to.  And that voice doesn’t shout.  It whispers.

...but I will wait anyway

Many times I started to believe the lie that “it really would be easier to quit.”  I can move forward, my children are resilient, I have the capability to provide financially for myself, my support group is solid, my feelings matter, I have a bright future, I can do hard things. (I… I… I… I… my… my… my… me… me… me.  That's )

But instead, as impossible as it felt at the time, I waited.  I have waited before, and I can do it again.

I have waited through pain.  I have waited through doubt. 

Through the heartbreak of miscarriage.

Through the agony of losing a son.

Through the fear of a fraying marriage.

Through the confusion of betrayal and loss.

Through the humiliation of my own mistakes.

Through the blindness of an unknown future.

I will wait. 

I will wait because my own self-contrived decisions are not necessarily the right ones.

The promise of Advent 

I will wait to hear God’s voice, which speaks differently to every person.  He speaks to me through people and undeniable signs on my path.  Go.  Stop.  Turn.  Move.  Pause.  Act.  Listen.  Write.  Speak up.  Hold back.  

I only notice God's voice, these undeniable nudges, when I intentionally listen and watch for them, rather than my own loud thoughts and the clanging noise from the rest of the world too. 

That’s what makes Advent especially important.  Because there are miracles everywhere.  And I don’t want to miss a single one distracted by the noise.

God sent His Son at Christmas with two assurances I hold to more tightly than any other: that He walks with us in the world, and that one day we will all be together again.  He lavished his greatest gift upon the most ordinary and unremarkable people - shepherds and peasants, and you and me - not because of anything we've done to earn it but simply because we belong to God.  This is hope.  This is love. 

So I will stand watch in this season of Advent, preparing my heart for however... and whenever... God is going to move. 

He's worth the wait.  

HP,

J

Need a last-minute and meaningful gift?  My new book Joy Comes in the Mourning is a true story filled with hope and encouragement perfect for anyone on your list, and small enough to tuck inside a stocking on Christmas morning. 

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