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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.

book launch | joy comes in the mourning | bonus thoughts on grief
Dec 10

Book launch, grief work, and thank you

By Jessica Allen | Grief

It’s been five days since the book launch and I think I have some organized words now. Or at least I have some words now.  Grief work is never through, even in the most joyful of celebrations.  

ICYMI, I released a book last week – a memoir, I suppose, although the easiest way to describe this has been “a grief book.”   It’s the true story of the birth and death of our first son and how his little magnificent life has underscored every step of mine ever since. 

I have always believed in LJ’s story, and in the message of hope it brings.  And I believe in that message of hope not just because it is a nice story (it is), but because it has brought me through the last ten years of my life.  Sometimes that experience has lit a very dark path.  Sometimes it has been the dark path itself.  But if I could boil what I’ve learned down to just one thing, it’s this: there is abundant life to be lived on the other side of grief. 

The other side of grief

“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.  Sometimes you get completely lost in the weeds.  Frustratingly, there’s no GPS for bereavement. Stopping to ask for directions, pausing to find your bearings, or even going in reverse for awhile, are all okay.  Quitting isn’t.  Your mind, body, and spirit will tell you when it’s time to recalculate and get back en route.  As long as you keep going, there’s light along the way.” – Joy Comes in the Mourning

Not surprisingly, I got lost in the weeds many times in the process of putting this book together.  I believe when we are making waves for good and for God in the world that the enemy will throw every distraction, every discouragement, and every weapon it can. 

The Grief Beast

Grief work is not easy.  It’s why so many people don’t and won’t do it.  Because grief can be a cranky, untrained dog.  Most of the time it looks okay and minds its manners.  But when provoked, it bites.  Its jaws are filled with pain, anger, regret, shame, guilt, disappointment, confusion, depression, doubt, and fear.  And the better you’re feeling when it lunges at you, the harder it’ll clench its teeth. 

I think those repeated wounds are meant to discourage us from ever healing.  We’re not much use for the kingdom of God when we’re bleeding.  Yet if you can stare your wild grief animal in the eye and over time patiently demand that it obey, you become a confident and capable master over its power.

Old dog... same old tricks

It’s admittedly hard to teach an old dog new tricks.  Grief will bite, when you least expect it, regardless of how much time has passed, or the nature of the grief itself.  As I put pen to paper (or really, fingers to keys) to tell LJ’s story, all sorts of grief came up.  Not only about losing our son but also about almost losing our marriage and our family too. 

When those memories and emotions rise to the top, I have two choices: I can stuff them down as fast as they appeared, or I can confront them, acknowledge what they’re hurting, and decide to breathe through it. 

What I don’t have to do is live in those memories and emotions for long.  THAT I believe is the fine line between healing and hopelessness.

Healing and hope

I believe I have hope because I found it.  I believe I can heal because I’ve felt it.  I believe I am meant for something wonderful in this life because I am still here.  And isn’t that the most humbling invitation to sort through the mess of grief?  To emerge from the ashes humbled, stronger, battle-worn, and even more convicted of our purpose? 

All this is to say, I live with this stuff every day of my life, rumbling around in my head and heart.  It matters to me.  So to put it into a book, and see that other people cared about it too, has truly been the most joyfully humbling experience of my life. 

Never since LJ have I felt so supported, loved, cared for, and believed in.  Five days have passed and I’m still teary writing this note. 

Grief is universal

The pain of grief and all those other “bites” it brings with it are universal heartaches.  Which is why I believe there’s truly something for everyone in this little book, whether it’s simply a chapter on anger or depression, or any quote ranging from infuriation with God to trust in His infinitely mysterious plan.  Something different has resonated with each person on our launch team and that’s been an incredible learning experience for me. 

So I guess what I’m saying most of all is thank you.  For reading, for caring, for being willing to touch all these tender ideas of healing.  It’s the only way I know how to come through the fire and it’s never as lonely when we go it together. 

Book scoop

If you didn’t get your copy of Joy Comes in the Mourning yet, here’s where to find it:

I’ve packaged every single book myself, and there are still (just a very few) signed copies left.  We’ve sent them literally coast to coast, and one even went to Pensacola to someone I don’t know yet.  If that’s you, please know that nothing made me smile more than knowing one of these little books is headed to my happiest place on earth! (It’s where this whole crazy blog idea was birthed, too!)  Someday we’ll meet in that beautiful white sandy paradise. 

It’s bound to be a crazy week, no matter your line of work.  We have “grab-and-go” meals ready for literally every single night through Sunday.  If your schedule looks similar to ours, take an extra minute today to breathe, pray, focus, and hold on tight to what’s most important.  The other stuff clamoring for your attention is just a distraction from loving your people – and yourself- well.

HP,

J

If you're local and would like to pick up your book rather than have us ship it, enter code "PICKUP" at checkout and contact me to pick it up!  Just head to www.getjoy.shop to get started.  

surviving the holidays | grief | divorce | marriage recovery | struggling marriage
Dec 03

Surviving the holidays when you’re barely surviving

By Jessica Allen | Family , Grief , Marriage

Surviving the holidays seems impossible when your life is falling apart.  (Spoiler alert: you can do it.  Keep reading and you'll see how we made it through too.)

Maybe you're grieving the loss of a loved one.  Maybe your marriage is on the rocks, or one of your children is troubled.  Your career or finances might be hanging by a thread.  All these things bring grief.  And grief is grief.  No matter the source.

Holiday grief

Waves come when you least expect.  Nine years after LJ died I had a meltdown on the floor at Hobby Lobby because I couldn't find six matching stocking hangers.  Everything came in sets of four or five... but not six.  

It came on like a panic - I could feel my heart rate skyrocket and my face get hot.  And I couldn't stop it from coming.  I was on my belly, face down, reaching for the back of the bottom shelves, when I finally just put my head down and cried.  People were sweet, mostly... scared, probably, but compassionate.  I pulled myself together, abandoned my cart, and left.  

There is no rhyme or reason for how grief manifests itself during "the holidays."

Surviving the holidays minute by minute

If you're approaching the holidays with a feeling of heaviness, anxiety, dread, or even despair, sentiments of "joy" or "merry" or "calm and bright" or even basic gratitude might be too much to hope for.  My prayer is that you will find simple pockets or even just tiny flickers of peace and comfort.  A good meal, a conversation with a friend, a book or song that speaks your heart.  

Those moments are treasures, like delicate shells to collect in your pocket.  Because the only thing that makes the anger and pain you're feeling even more distressing is the knowledge that the holidays are coming.  I remember starting to drown in the anxiety that I was going to have to swim in a sea of happy people when I was still such a wreck.  

Why surviving the holidays seems impossible when you're grieving

Entering the holiday season in grief is just about as hard as the loss you're grieving in the first place.  Regardless of the source of your grief, the holidays only magnify the pain grief brings.  What should be such a happy season just isn't happy at all.  

You wish you could close your eyes and wake up on January 2nd.  Skip it all.  Even the New Year, which feels ridiculous because the idea of a "fresh start" is insulting after your whole life has been upended.  If only a snap of your fingers could make it all go away: grief, frustration, confusion, Santa, the mall, the Salvation Army bell ringers, picture-perfect family photos, the Hallmark movie channel, and the blowups on your neighbors' lawn.  Everywhere you look are reminders that the world has moved on... and you're still stuck in sadness or anger.  

It's the most terrible time of the year

We had a rough Christmas once, more than normal.  Sadly, this one was even more awful than the year our son died.  This particular season was just weeks after our marriage detonated.  We both approached the holidays with heaping piles of disappointment, anger, resentment, and fear.  

Neither one of us was able to admit it to the other, but I know we were both terrified it would be our last Thanksgiving and Christmas together under one roof.  So surviving the holidays was especially critical, and doubly hard.  I was mortified to face his family, just as mortified as he was to face mine.  I was positive I was going to become a fold-over in the annual family Thanksgiving picture.  True story.  I think by chance I wound up on the far corner of the group in the photo… I’m sure I manifested that for myself.  (As far as I know, I didn’t get cut out!)

Make the holidays exactly what you need them to be

It was more important that year than ever before for us to create some special memories as “just us.”  We had to set some boundaries that season that confused and likely disappointed our families.  It was uncomfortable, and in many ways it probably would have been easier to just “do what we’ve always done.”  But that’s not what we needed that year, and I’m grateful we had the courage and determination to chart our holiday course differently. 

Surviving those holidays meant getting creative.  We intentionally established a new Christmas Day tradition in our home.  I knew after a full day of Christmas Eve services at church I would be exhausted, and trying to haul everyone out of the house with gifts and merriment strapped on would push me over the edge.  So, we didn’t.  And it is one of the best decisions we’ve ever made for our little family.  We stayed in our jammies, made memories and food together, and stayed present to enjoy what we truly thought was going to be our last Christmas together.  Tragically, if that had been true, it would have been our only Christmas together prepared and enjoyed with that much intention.

For more help on repairing your marriage, especially during the holidays, click here.  

I keep that Christmas in mind whenever I start feeling anxious about what each holiday is going to look like this time around. 

Things I learned from surviving that sweet and special Christmas:

The people who love you most will still love you. 

They will still love you even if you change all the plans and move all their cheese.  They will get over it.  Grit your teeth and wait them out!

Creating your own traditions is priceless.

These are memories you'll have forever.  If this isn't the year for traditions, go do or try something you'd never otherwise do.  Being together is the whole point.  Screw "normal."  There's no normal right now anyway.

Give your children the gift of present and loving parents on holidays.  

You can’t do that if you’re stressed to hell.  A wonderful funny friend of ours said, and I quote: “We don’t want our kids to think we suck at holidays.”  Our children really don’t want as much stuff as we think they do.  They just want us.  

Cook – or cater – a fantastic meal.  

We ordered a gorgeous prime rib, prayed we wouldn’t screw it up, and enjoyed the most incredible Christmas dinner.  One of my best memories of all time is sitting with Jack at the table after the kids had scampered off to play with their new toys.  With full bellies, and no run-around-town stress that day, conversation opened up that brought us some peace.  We were still a long way from reconciled then but I treasure that evening spent together with our guards lowered.  Magic really can happen over a great meal.  

Here are some easy ice-breakers if your relationship is so strained you don't know where to start.  

Thoughtful gifts don’t have to be expensive.  

Maxing yourself out financially only adds to your stress and mental garbage.  There are countless ways to say I love you that don't cost a penny.

But JUST SAY NO to anything that doesn’t bring you absolute peace and presence this season.  

Dragging yourself to and through obligations is a recipe for self-implosion. Saying no is harder for some people than others.  If that’s you, go back and read #1. 

It’s exhausting to stand on principle or try to punish or hurt someone you love on a holiday.  

Stick a pin in the feud; you can always come back to it later.  Be kind to each other, if for no other reason than to give yourself the gift of putting down the heavy weight of anger for just one day.

Don't make any big decisions

Your emotions, stress, fatigue, and blood pressure are all at DEFCON 5.  This is not the time to decide to split up, move out, quit your job, go skydiving, or get a tattoo or a puppy.  Those are all valid ideas that can wait until January.  That's when you'll think a little straighter and make better, more rational choices.

When you’re hurting, it’s time to circle the wagons, hunker down, and put your needs and the needs of your nuclear family first.  

This doesn’t mean shutting people out.  It simply means budgeting your time and energy so that you can give your most important people the best of yourself.  They deserve more than our "leftovers." 

Take pictures only if you want to.  

If someone else really needs a picture, suck it up and pose, while repeating to yourself you never have to look at the photo if you don’t want to.  Especially if it’s a painful reminder of a painful time. You DO have every right to request that it not appear on social media.  

Speaking of social media, STAY OFF SOCIAL MEDIA.  

You can “like” everybody else’s “perfect family pictures” another day.  I say "perfect" because I promise you, they yelled at each other trying to get the perfect outfits or the perfect location or the perfect shot.  And one of the kids probably got threatened within an inch of his life for acting exactly like a kid forced to take pictures in itchy new clothes would act.  When our marriage fell apart, I wish I had a nickel for every time someone said, "we just had no idea anything was wrong."  (It would have paid for all the therapy!)  WE were that perfect family on social media.  Proof that you never truly know what's going on behind the scenes.  

Holidays are not going to magically make pain or struggle disappear.  

But you can find moments of peace and glimpses of goodness if you’re willing to look for them.

Surviving the holidays when you're a mess means simply making it through.  And once you've done it, you'll breath a sigh of relief.  And you might even have a glimmer of hope and gratitude.  (It's okay if you don't, though.  Some years, surviving the holidays is the very best you can do.  We are meant to thrive in the right time, and that time will come.  Just not right now.)

All this being said, if you do feel up to making merry this Christmas in spite of your grief, let your people love you the way they know how.  This means they will feed you and hug you and make you take uncomfortable family pictures.  And even if you stand on the far back corner of the group, I promise they won’t fold you over.

HP,

J

PS: This will help you survive the holidays! 

My new book, Joy Comes in the Mourning, releases Thursday, and it's that kind of book that might bring you a flicker of peace in a difficult season.  It's a raw and real look at the grieving process, no matter your loss or struggle, and will bring you the reassurance that what you're thinking and feeling is okay.  I found the brightest light on my life's darkest path.  And it's my joy to share what I've learned along the way.  Check back here and our social channels on Thursday for where to find the book, and for more help on grief and the holidays.

Turkey | holiday stress | tips for managing holiday stress
Nov 27

Turkey and De-stressing: How minimize holiday stress

By Jessica Allen | Family , Life

I’m an introvert.  Which means even the sweetest gatherings with the people I love most can leave me feeling overwhelmed with holiday stress.  And even after almost 15 years of marriage and 19 total years of shared holidays with both sides of our family, we actually don’t have a set tradition or schedule for Thanksgiving.  It’s a little different every year.  While it always turns out sweet and special, that constant unpredictability is uber-stressful on a person who really likes sameness.

So after 19 years of near-tears and real-tears over what should be a lovely set of holiday meals together, I figured I’d do a little personal work and get to the heart of what stresses me out so much.  Once you can name it, you can solve it, or at least approach it differently so I can actually enjoy myself.  SO here’s my recipe for a big helping of de-stressing with your Thanksgiving turkey!

Tips to manage holiday stress

  1. Plan ahead – Shop early, chop and bag veggies and make the food you can ahead of time.  Pack clothes/supplies the day before.  Make a list and delegate just about everything that doesn’t involve fire or knives or your grandmother’s recipe you love to assemble yourself.  
  2. Ask for help – Even small children can perform easy tasks, like “scoop 6 cups of dog food into this Ziplock bag” or “empty the dishwasher.”  Don’t be a martyr.  I’ve tried it and all it does is make everyone miserable.  Turn the help list into a game if you want, or shamelessly bribe your people with allowance or ice cream or Hot Wheels or whatever you like to bribe them with. 
  3. Simplify – Do you really need the elaborate recipe, outfit, décor, etc.?  Or can you release some expectations and therefore manage your holiday stress level better?  Jen Hatmaker, one of my favorite authors, posted yesterday about the gorgeous green bean casserole she almost got suckered into making, until she remembered that her whole family would riot if if she didn't serve the classic canned cream soup version with crunchy onions on top.  Sometimes the simplest path really is the best. (Except for my mother's stuffing... sorry, mom.  We truly value the three entire days you spend making it and your sons in law will fight each other for the last bite.)
  4. You do you – Although it’s not characteristic of our particular families to engage in divisive political/religious conversations, it’s never beyond the realm of possibility that a sticky topic could come up. We’re all nuts just like the rest of you too.  So if you have some off-limits conversation topics, practice saying clearly with confidence: “Not today.”  Stick to your guns.  Nobody can force you to engage or respond to a conversation that is unkind, divisive, inflammatory, or disrespectful.  If all else fails, literally walk away.  You aren’t ruining anything.  So don’t accept that accusation if it starts flying your way.  If anyone’s ruining anything, they are, by disregarding and disrespecting a very clear self-respecting boundary you set.  
  5. Bring a game to play - Idle time is the birthplace of tricky conversations.  Keep the entertainment going.  Our favorites are Pit (a fast and funny yell-it-out card trading game from my childhood!!!), Spoons, Spades, Balderdash, Scrabble, Pokeno, Avocado Smash, or good old-fashioned War.  
  6. Arrive and/or serve the meal on time - This is my husband's #1 holiday stress hot button.  (actually, his stress hot button in general.). Don’t be late, and if you are, respect your people enough to give them an accurate expectation of your arrival time.  Hungry tummies are cranky tummies.  Full tummies are happy tummies and everyone feels their time - and hot, lovingly-prepared food! - is respected.  (I've ruined many a beautifully grilled pork tenderloin by not being ready for dinner when we decided we'd eat.  We're all works in progress.)
  7. Set technology expectations with children and spouses before you arrive.  Nothing hurts my feelings more than seeing people’s faces buried in screens when we’ve all made such an effort to gather together. 
  8. Realize there is no “perfect” holiday gathering, so….
  9. Get your mind and heart right before you walk in - If relationships are strained, pray for patience, compassion, understanding, love, and restraint.  You can be an agent of war or an agent of peace, no matter what the other person chooses.  What version of yourself do you want to bring to the literal table this holiday season?

To ease holiday stress, absolutely invite these things around your table:

  • Gratitude
  • Patience
  • Peace
  • Simplicity
  • Presence
  • Confidence in yourself
  • Boundaries
  • Gentleness of speech (Think of the children!  Little ears are learning.)
  • Willingness to listen more than you talk
  • Love for your people

Leave these things at home: 

  • Sarcasm
  • Old childhood patterns that don’t serve you any longer (i.e. muting your confidence/capabilities to make someone feel better, deferring to your loud brother, letting unacceptable comments fly unchecked, not standing up for yourself, arguing for arguments’ sake, etc.)
  • Anything hinting at passive-aggressive behavior
  • An ax to grind with someone (Make like Elsa and let it gooooooo)
  • Overindulging (except garlic mashed potatoes and pie, that’s okay)
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Heads buried in devices
  • A need to prove anything to anyone
  • Shame or embarrassment

If you really just can’t even…

If you’re a mess this holiday season, I invite (implore) you to simply be exactly as you need to be.  I also give you permission to blatantly eye-roll the first person who tells you to cheer up or look on the bright side.  SOMETIMES YOU LITERALLY CANNOT DO THAT.  If you’re deep in grief, of any kind, this is the year to practice lots of self-care and maybe even tell your people NO I am not coming.  I have other plans.  And as my dad taught me so insistently when I was young, it is 1000% okay if my “other plans” are simply “not going to that thing you want me to go to.”  

I have forced myself to suit-up-and-show-up when I had absolutely no business doing so.  And then I paid the price with a physical and emotional crash in the days that followed.  

That’s not being a hero.  That’s being ridiculous.

So save your brave heroics and any holiday stress for another day, and instead ask the people who love you to save you a plate of food from the party.  Put on your favorite jammies, curl up in bed with the best coffee and movies you love, and let this be a day you live in gratitude for quiet and stillness.  Plans can look different.  It's just one day, one meal, one tradition. So it’s okay to do something that goes against the norm.  Breaking the status quo generally makes people really uncomfortable but it doesn’t mean you’re disrespecting them.  It means you’re respecting yourself.   

HP, and may you have the most blessed and heart-filling holiday week,

PS: Is your shopping list giving you holiday stress?  I can help!Joy Comes in the Mourning is coming TO THIS SITE in just a few short days, in perfect time for the holidays!  It's a book that contains light and hope for every person, grieving or not, and it's small enough to tuck inside a stocking on Christmas morning.  The first 500 copies contain some sweet surprises!  More details to come!  For a quick peek at the backstory, and the "why" behind the book, click here.

who made you the expert | inferiority complex
Nov 21

Who made YOU the expert?

By Jessica Allen | Life

This is one of my favorite graphics of all time:

day in the life of an entrepreneur | emotional wheel | emotional management | personal growth

I love this graph for the reassurance and laugh it gives me as an entrepreneur but I really do think it resonates with every human person on the planet - not just business owners.

How many times a day (a minute?!) do we all go through that mental and emotional cycle?  

A friend corrected me yesterday when I let some verbal self-abuse come pouring out of my mouth.  My children know to correct me, and their daddy, and each other, when this happens too.

There’s just no reason to beat ourselves up so.  

The meanest person I know

If I had to honestly answer the question: “Who’s the meanest person you know?”, I’d have to say…. MYSELF.

I am meaner to myself than any other person in my life.  Well, almost any other person in my life.  We all have those poo-poo-list people who have done us a doozy or two.

I can rationalize that self-criticism away by reminding myself I am an aspiring high-achiever, a first-born, a recovering perfectionist, and I want to be the best at everything.  (This is a recipe for the world's version of success but really super unhealthy if it’s not balanced by self-care and perspective and compassion for others, btw.)

But ultimately the reason I’m so hard on myself is because of lingering insecurity.  I want to be taken seriously, I want to be seen as an authority or a leader in my field, I want to make a difference, I don’t want to feel left out or left behind.  I’m constantly self-scanning for points of weakness and building armor over them so I won’t be picked apart or found out or criticized or debunked.  

OUCH THAT IS HARD TO SAY IN REAL LIFE.  But it’s the truth, and that’s what we tell here.  The truth.  

Who made you the expert?

Rachel Hollis, the famed speaker and author behind Girl, Wash Your Face and Girl, Stop Apologizing, recently experienced a major troll on her social media.  Someone asked her essentially, “who made YOU the expert?

Her response stuck with me, because it is strong, inspiring, honest, and right on the money.

She replied, I DID.  (Now I'll paraphrase here:) I made MYSELF the expert.  I built a business from the ground up, with blood, sweat, and tears, and learned it all the hard way with good honest hard work. 

Essentially, you don’t need the fancy degree or the title or the certifications – what qualifies you in any field is hard-earned, nose-to-the-grindstone, elbows-dirty experience.  

I grab onto this idea EVERY DAY.  

I wonder sometimes who would ever take me seriously in the realms of grief, marriage recovery, and personal development.  I have a music degree, for goodness’ sake.

But do you know what else I have?

EXPERIENCE. 

  • I walked (still walk) the broken road of losing a child.
  • I have bloody knees from a nearly-failed marriage.
  • I built a business from the ground up, have relied on it as our sole income, and have shown other people how to do it too.
  • I have taken a leap of faith to follow a crazy wild-hare dream.
  • I have made mistakes, some private, and some very, very public.
  • I have gotten a lot wrong in the pursuit of learning how to get it right.  
  • I have worked on myself.  I have allowed other professionals to help me work on myself too.
  • I have gussied up courage to tell my story, with nothing held back.

We're all experts

So who made me the expert on grief and heartfully present living?  I DID.  By simply living my life with determination, humility, willingness, faith, courage, fear, confidence, love, and an open mind and heart.  

Which begs the question: who made YOU the expert on your magnificent life’s pursuit?  Whether it's child-rearing, relationships, education, politics, business, ministry, health care, sales, service, or art?

YOU DID.  And you’re continuing to prove your expertise every day.   

Keep going.  What you’re doing matters.

From one expert to another, 

HP,

J

OMGOSH my book is almost out into the world and I can't wait for you to read it! If you want to be part of the launch team, drop me a note, subscribe to our Happy Mail Club, and mark your calendars for December 3!  XO&HP, J

And, if you're not on our Heartfully Present Facebook page yet, we miss you and we need you and we hope you'll come play.  :). The world and the internet are a mess of wildly strange and confusing things, and our little community is a sweet breath of edifying fresh air!

failure | fear | f words | marriage | affair recovery | marriage help | relationship quotes
Nov 12

Failure, fear, & other F words

By Jessica Allen | Uncategorized

Fear is real, and it’s universal.  Everyone feels it.  But before I get to fear let’s talk about failure.

I made a really bad judgment call at our family retreat this week.  I grabbed onto a rope swing, got a running start, took a flying leap, lost my grip, and landed hard face down in what could have been a really terrible accident.  (By miracle alone, my head is fine… but my ribs and my neck are not.  I’m propped up like Frankenstein just to write this.  Nothing a few days’ rest and ibuprofen can’t handle.)

No big deal, really; just a dumb lack of common sense.  The rope isn’t even rated to hold my weight anyway.  Furthermore I could have broken the tree branch if I had actually gotten off the ground.

As we were making breakfast the next morning, I did something else goofy and asked Jack, “do you ever catch yourself mid-action and think, this was a really bad idea?”

He of course said no (teasing me) and asked if I do that.  I answered yes, about 9 million times a day.

This is a slight exaggeration but it holds truth.

How many times do I act without thinking, move without planning, speak without filtering?  Only to look back immediately and cringe, “GOSH, I wish I would’ve…”

Failure as teacher

Some of this is just how we learn.  We are all hopelessly flawed and ever-evolving.  Every mishap is an opportunity to learn and be better next time.  If you’re not failing, if you’re not even in the arena to begin with, you’re not growing at all.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt, “Citizens in a Republic” speech, 1910

EVERY BIT of my marriage is this – dust and sweat and blood, falling short, striving for a worthy cause, enthusiasm, devotion, moments of triumph and failure, and most importantly daring greatly to grow a marriage that models love, forgiveness, boundaries, strength, and humility to my children.

The “man in the arena” reminds me of this scripture too: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” – Revelation 3: 15-16

The scripture is a specific calling upon our spiritual lives.  But I love the imagery and it’s a great reminder to never get complacent.  “Good enough” or “fine” (or in my tendency “coasting”) is not where we’re meant to stay.

We’re meant to care.  To act.  To move.  To stay awake, alert, ambitious, and focused on growth.

The paradox

The crazy paradox about ambitious goals is that we’re also called to be still… be content… rest in the knowledge that we are enough just as we are.  Is anyone else as confused as I am by all this?  The tug-of-war between staying content and striving for more breaks my entrepreneurial-Jesus-girl brain a little.  I really do think we need both, in equal parts, in order to become our best without losing our marbles in the process.

Growth road map

Growth requires change,
Change requires overcoming fear,
Overcoming fear requires risk, and
Risk inevitably results in pain from time to time.

The short version?  Growth = Pain. (So sayeth my neck and ribs.)

So too sayeth my marriage, my parenting, my professional business, my bank account, my waistline, and my actual self.

But because fear shows up the moment I have an opportunity to grow, it’s easy to disguise that fear of growth and change as “contentment.”

I love my life.  We have all we need.  Why rock the boat?  Why strive for more?

Because I am capable of more.  Because we are meant for more.  Because God is counting on the living instruments he placed on the earth and I want to be a useful one.

Does that mean every leap of faith will be rewarded with a victory story?  Nope.  Most big leaps involve at least one painful face plant.  Probably many, actually.

It’s easy to dismiss that failure, that pain, as “a sign it’s not meant to be.”

What if we’re wrong about that?

What if the failure is the invitation to keep on keepin’ on?  Only smarter this time?

Choosing resilience over fear

It’s nearly impossible to embrace that kind of bold resilience in the moment.  For example, my first thought face down on the ground, after “I hope I don’t have a concussion” was “NEVER AGAIN.”

Now that’s fair, on many levels.  The rope wasn’t strong enough, and neither was the branch.  I didn’t go in with careful thought or any kind of backup plan.  I was doomed to fail, actually.

I think what helps me make the shift from “wish I wouldn’t have done that” to “I’ll do better next time” is what I choose to do after I blow it.

I have two choices: wallow in the setback, or learn from it to be better next time.

If we wallow in failure, we’ll stay stuck forever in a murky swamp of regret, pain, embarrassment, shame, fear, and even more scarily intense feelings like anger and depression.  Wallowing requires no action at all.  That’s Door Number 1.

But behind Door Number 2 is the choice to learn and do better next time.  This also involves pain, embarrassment, and a bunch of crappy fear too.  But the difference here is that learning uses those negative emotions as motivation OUT of where we landed.  This choice requires action.  It’s harder.  Which is why lots of people are scared to do it.

Fear is real… but it’s not your master

If I had to boil down the near-death of our marriage to one thing, I would say it was FEAR.

Fear of a fight.  Fear of feeling unheard.  Fear of realizing our problem was bigger than I imagined.  Fear the problem was too big for us to fix.  Fear I wasn’t who I wanted to be.  Fear he’d never change.

All those fears were valid – little red flags trying to get my attention and spur me into action.  Yet tragically, because I didn’t grab those fears by the horns and wrestle them down, they bypassed me altogether and invited my worst fear to come out to play instead – the destruction of my marriage and family.

In the initial aftermath, I sobbed over and over that I DID speak up, I DID voice concerns, I DID put the issues on the table.  (I did.  Not well enough, but I did.  If you feel misunderstood, it is your job to say it again or say it different or say it louder or throw something to get their attention.  You can be mad about this truth or you can actually try it.  For help with this, click here.)

But here’s my half-hearted and chicken plan to fix my marriage failed: at the first hints of discord and discomfort between us, I retreated.  I let fear back me into a corner and devour my confidence and trust down to the bones.  So in this way the problems in our marriage grew, and with them, my resentment and anger too.

The ugly truth

Want to know what happens to people whose fear and anger are high, and trust and confidence are low?

They self destruct.  Their lives fall completely apart, starting with their most important relationships.  I nearly ran a thriving business into the ground and almost ripped my family in half.  And it wasn’t just my fault.  It takes two to destroy a marriage.  Imagine two people simultaneously self-destructing – that was our home three years ago.

It’s all good – we both got our $%&# together and rebuilt it all from the smoking ashes up.  I love the way all our broken pieces fused back together, stronger than before.

The upside to failure (i.e. telling fear to shove it)

Here’s the marvelous thing about failure – when you stare it in the face and defiantly flip fear the bird, that thing you failed at never seems quite so scary again.

I’m not afraid of confrontation anymore.  I don’t like it, but I’m not afraid of it.  I’m not afraid to speak up.  I’m not afraid of a fight.  I’m not afraid of messing up, owning the mistake, or being honest about anything.  I’m not afraid of hard questions.  I’m not afraid of failing in business, or as a person.  I’m not afraid of being backed into a corner.  And I’m not afraid that I’ll bail on myself or my husband or the life we’ve cultivated together.

Honest truth: I do have lingering hints of fear and mistrust that we (me as an individual and him as an individual and we as a couple) will revert back into old patterns of poor communication, disregard for each other’s feelings, and tendency to turn a blind eye to those little red flags.  We’re far from perfect, and 17 years of bad habits take intentional work to change.  I also have to remember that we cut each other the deepest wounds with the sharpest swords, and that pain takes time to heal too.

A marriage can survive an affair, or any other awful crisis.  But the reason most marriages don’t survive is because both parties are so hurt, angry, and defeated that they can’t even begin to heal all the problems that led up to the affair/crisis in the first place.  (This is my non-certified yet 100% experiential theory and I’m sticking to it.)

It’s not all rainbows over here.

But I’m not afraid to try again.

HP,

J

PS: My first book is coming in just a few weeks!  Hop onto our Happy Mail Club list (click the button just below here to subscribe) for updates and sneak-peeks, including how to grab a copy of Joy Comes in the Mourning before it launches, and how we’re using this little book to make a difference for marriages and families all over the world.

Things change | grief | kindness | gentleness | blue mountains
Oct 29

Things Change

By Jessica Allen | Grief

My original working title for the book was Blue October until someone told me I have been living under a rock and Blue October is a band (they’re good!).   

We went to the zoo this past Saturday under that gorgeous blue October sky.  G’s softball tournament bracket blocked out the entire day and I had prepared myself that we might not get away.  Jack asked her if she wanted to stay to play or head on to the zoo.  She picked the zoo.  On "LJ Day," the answer is YES.  No matter what.  We would have reworked our plan if she wanted to stay and play.  But selfishly, I'm so grateful she didn't.  

I hope they always want to go to the zoo, even when they’re grown. 

(It all works out.  The tournament continued without her and they won the whole thing, and she got to see her teammates the next day at the party.  She was presented with the “Softball Fashionista” award – they love her crazy socks and quirky style.)

As anticipated, the simultaneous zoo and hospital reconstruction projects made it so that we can’t see the NICU anymore.  I freaked out about it last year when construction began, and it was sad this year too.  We know it’s there, and that’s enough.  It has to be enough now, anyway. 

I went back to the NICU one time, on the 5 year anniversary.  It was hard… traumatic, actually.  I really thought I was ready to take gifts to the staff and the families.  I did what I came to do and held it together until I left.  But the smells (tunnels, hand sanitizer, general smell of the wing) and sounds (elevators, monitors, reception phone) and visuals (aquarium, lighting, big double doors I can’t enter any longer) were too much to take in. 

I haven’t been back since. 

So now that I can’t even see that precious space from the outside anymore, it was painful to mark yet another passing season in this whole grief journey.  Things change.  And those changes can be just as hard as grief itself. 

I get a little paranoid sometimes that people must be just absolutely sick of hearing me talk about this stuff.  Like if I were listening to me, I’d be sick of it too. 

That is the crappiest part of this whole process.  Feeling bad about feeling bad about feeling bad.  And then feeling bad because you don’t feel bad anymore.  (What even is this cheap shot?!) 

Yet I have never once felt frustrated with someone “in the thick of it,” maybe because I know what it’s like to be there.  And ultimately, if people do feel frustrated with me, they’ve never let on, or they’ve just left me alone, or they quietly “unfollowed” me on social media.  I see you, Instagram.

We’ve had dreary days this week and I’m honestly grateful.  Sunshine in a slump is almost insult to injury.  G loves Halloween.  I hate it, all the creepy decorations and our weird cultural fascination with possessed clowns and demon children and the undead.  But because Halloween is important to her, it’s important to me, so we compromise on decorations.  I stalled as long as I could this year and finally took her shopping yesterday.  We decided on giant spider webs; I can handle that.  She asked if she could paint her pumpkin creepy and that’s fine too. 

She asked me in the car if I was tired.  She is so perceptive.  I just answered simply, yes.  Thank you for noticing, and thank you for asking.  She said, I can tell, Mommy.   I wanted to cry.  It felt good to just be honest with her, as much as was necessary with a 9 year old.  That moment was a good reminder for me that I do not have to be Super Sunshiny Sparkly Mom all the time.  Normal Mom or Tired Mom or even Sad Mom is still a good mom. 

99.9% of the time I can find the bright side, the spiritual lesson, the glass-half-full approach.  100% of the time I do choose hope – the knowledge that today can be better than yesterday, that God is working all things together for my good, and that we (all people) are capable of change and growth beyond our human strength. 

I’m self-caring this week, more than normal, and for me that looks like sleeping enough, cooking yummy food, lighting cozy candles, keeping my space clean, steering clear of social media, reading/listening to good edifying material, refusing to play the mind-bending “what if” game, choosing not to make any big knee-jerk decisions, staying faithful to writing and community, and not losing my patience with my people.  Some of those things are harder than others. 

Ironically, writing is usually my first go-to strategy to sort out the mess in my mind and heart.  I know I’m in a really rough patch when I want to run away even from that.  So this is me checking in today, with myself, and with everyone else who isn’t sick of hearing about it yet. 

Share love with people today, wherever you go.  Life, faith, relationships, they are hard and we are all just stumbling around down here trying to do it right.  Give grace.  Show compassion.  Grant patience.  Breathe peace.  Go out of your way to make something convenient for someone else.  Let someone go first in line.  Write a kind note.  Leave a thoughtful voicemail.  Add an extra mindful greeting in an email.  BE NICE.  Even to people who you feel don’t deserve it.

I guess what I’m hearing myself say here (ughhh writing works, dammit!) is that at my most vulnerable, I can still tolerate creepy Halloween, I can muscle through triggery memories, I can breathe and pray through the grief journey, but what I can’t stomach is unkindness.  Not even necessarily sent in my direction.  Unkindness in general.  I guess it’s because I know how desperately I crave that gentleness of spirit, especially in my weakest and most tender moments. 

I’m sure there’s a way to wrap this all in a nice moral-of-the-story bow, but I’m too tired for that today, and I am giving myself permission to enjoy the gifts of imperfection. 

Wherever you are on this cloudy day, be gentle, seek out kindness, and stay close to people who feel like sunlight.  They need us as much as we need them.

HP,

J <3

BOOK UPDATE:  I can't thank you enough for your thoughtful and generous outpouring of support for my book!  Joy Comes in the Mourning is edited, formatted, copyrighted, licensed, covered, and heading to print!  We'll be launching the whole thing the first week of December.  If you'd like to be part of the launch team, which includes easy things like reading the book ahead of time and writing an online review, getting the inside scoop, attending a launch party, and who doesn't love a tshirt?!, subscribe to Happy Mail Club and/or drop me a note at jessica@heartfullypresent.com.  

Not okay (and that's okay) | grief | broken eggshells | grief in marriage | child loss
Oct 22

Not okay (and that’s okay)

By Jessica Allen | Grief

This is a big week in our house.  Marriage stuff (ouchy stuff) and the anniversary of LJ’s death are JUST HARD and even though in the grand scheme of things we’re great, some days we’re just not okay.

I’ll lightheartedly say with mild humor that grief is pushing me to overcaffeinating and overeating and overthinking and overworrying and overobsessing.  I find myself undersleeping, underbreathing, underforgiving, and under pressure

Even when the humor and the rhyme and rhythm fall away, I can candidly admit that these anniversaries are supremely heartbreaking. 

October is when our son was born and died, and it’s when our marriage fell apart.  (Well, October is when our marriage broke altogether.  It had been in steady decay long before then.)

So we have lots of scary, tender, upsetting, painful, and indelible memories crammed into one tiny month that send our emotional and grief wheels turning.

Similar to the chart in the hospital that notes your pain level with faces ranging from happy to screaming. Hint: pinpointing your location on this chart will only help you IF YOU ARE HONEST. Lies and “faking it” don’t fix grief faster.

How am I doing? (Not okay is okay)

On any given day, both as a couple and as individuals, Jack and I are anywhere from “present and grateful” to “I really wish you wouldn’t have asked.”  10 years have passed since LJ died, and 3 years have passed since our near-divorce,  and every year I think it’s going to get easier.  Maybe someday it will.  Some things are improved, like our patience with each other and our healthy (healthier) communication skills.  Some things are still as yucky as they were the first time around, like recalling the irreversible events that led up to both traumas.  I hope someday those memories and flashbacks won’t feel quite so painful.  Time doesn’t heal wounds this deep, but it does blur their harsh lines a little.  

The grief monster (all tricks, no treats)

What I’ve learned is that the grief monster costumes up differently every year.  Sometimes he comes in a sad suit, and sometimes an angry one, and sometimes he wears an invisibility cloak to hit me over the head when I’m not expecting the blow.  That’s his favorite charade, I think.  He can hide different weapons under there too, like guilt and shame and regret and other toxic thoughts he whispers into my ear when I’m alone with myself in the quiet. 

I wish I could say that our marriage communication is so sublime (it isn’t) that we don’t get awkward and uncomfortable around these painful emotions and memories (we do). 

No matter how much you work on your marriage, or on grief recovery, there will always be little cracks in the armor where the enemy tries to get through.  In fact, the more diligently you work on your marriage, the more intently he tries to get through.

If the enemy can’t wreck your family, and if he can’t wreck your marriage, he’ll try to wreck YOU. 

And the old adage is true: when it rains, it pours.  Lots of little old ghosts have come to call this month, in the form of written communication and live conversations.  Each knock was an invitation to engage; an opportunity to step inside a time machine right back into the past. 

NO GOOD WOULD COME FROM THIS. 

The past is not really in the past if it’s bothering your present

A well-intending counselor sent my blood pressure to Jupiter once by saying “put the past in the rearview mirror and never look back.”  I thought that was quite possibly the dumbest and most ignorant thing you could possibly do.  Our cars have a rearview mirror for a reason. It’s to see what’s behind us so we don’t get in a wreck. 

But the passing of time has given me a fresher perspective.  I think this advice is right, but needs a qualifier to be fully effective:  Put the past in the rearview mirror, once you have properly reckoned with it, and never look back.   Resolve what you can.  Reconcile what you can.  Forgive whomever and whenever and however you can.  And then, and only then, can you put the pain of the past in the rearview mirror and not feel tempted to look back (or God forbid, turn back around and drive back towards it).  Those little old ghosts will tap your shoulder persistently until you finally agree to address them. It’s healthy to reckon with them intentionally and on your own terms. It becomes unhealthy when they push you into a corner, because at that point you’ll react with anxiety and poor decisions rather than a clear mind and a purposeful heart.

A promise

As far as “dealing with the past” goes, I promised myself this year that I would absolutely not, under any circumstances, say I am doing okay if I am, in fact, not okay at all.  It is my gift to myself to honor where I am, how I’m feeling, and the true pace at which I’m navigating grief at ten (and three) years. 

I promised myself to breathe through the hard conversations and the painful moments.  And I promised myself to NEVER GO BACK into the cave of shame and self-destruction.  I have sought and requested and received forgiveness and redemption.  Both from my Maker and from my husband.  So there is no reason to continually put myself back into that hole of despair and self-deprication.  Grief is hard enough as it is without cutting off your own oxygen too. 

So we’re doing it messy over here, lots of eggshells to walk around and plates to break

How we “anniversary”

Friday is a tough day, and so is Saturday (Zoo Day, although Zoo Day is more sweet than bitter by now).  Both kids have end-of-season ball tourneys both days, so I think we’re stressing about that scheduling monkey-wrench more than we’re giving ourselves credit for.  Date night and zoo plans are fluid until we see how games shake out. 

In the meantime, we’re trying to stay in the pale blue okay part of the chart, giving each other lots of grace and patience when we’re sitting deep in the black not-okay part of the chart instead, and taking one blessed day at a time.   I know each time we walk this October road together we come out stronger.  Someday I will hopefully look back on this aspect of “becoming” in my life and feel grateful I took the time to work through every raw step. 

Praying for you, wherever you are on your own okay-not-okay chart, and thanking God that He gives us infinite chances to try again. 

HP,

J

PS: I wrote a book and it’s headed your way soon! Check out my previous blog post for the scoop, or head to our Heartfully Present Facebook/IG pages to see pics and find excerpts. Even better: are you on the Happy Mail Club list?! Sign up below to get updates, sneak-peeks behind the scenes, and special treats delivered once a week right to your email inbox. It’s the sunshine you never knew you needed on a Friday.

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

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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
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