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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.

Why I Write | woman writing | find your purpose
Aug 20

Why I Write

By Jessica Allen | Faith , Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why I write: to shine light in the dark

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thus forward in faith I go.

So why do I write?

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

My only responsibility is simply to offer it up.   

The rest is up to Him.

HP,

J

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

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

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

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

20 Questions Worth Asking Your Spouse

By Jessica Allen | Marriage

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

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

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

And his response was the nail in my coffin. 

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

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

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

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

So many questions

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

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

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

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

Love grows where you nurture it

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

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

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

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

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

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

HP,

J

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

New growth in marriage

By Jessica Allen | Marriage

Waiting for new growth is a gamble sometimes. 

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

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

And that’s the gamble. 

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

Less-than-green thumb

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

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

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

Life symbols

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

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

Plant trivia

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

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

Die.

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

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

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

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

Surprise

And then I pulled up the grapevines.

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

new growth | plumeria | green leaves

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

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

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

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

Survivor tree – new growth from wreckage

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

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

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

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

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

HP,

J

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

Time Management for Dummies (Smarties)

By Jessica Allen | Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HP,

J

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

time management tips for work from home moms
Making time for your marriage | 7 tips for summer love | pineapple with sunglasses
Jul 09

7 tips for summer lovin’ | Making time for your marriage

By Jessica Allen | Marriage

Making time for your marriage in the summertime is hard because it can feel like there’s no time for us.

I love my children so so much and I love summertime so so much because we are all here together.

It’s a lot, though.  3 businesses, 2 grown-ups, 2 big kids, 1 baby, 1 dog, and 1 ministry.  All operating out of our 1 house.  Under 1 sun that is setting later and later in the evening.  (Coincidentally accompanied this week by 1 upstairs air conditioner that is on the fritz, bringing 2 children downstairs to sleep.)

During the school year, we have some really wonderful built-in “us” time.  We can both shut down for an hour or two in the afternoon to grab lunch or simply have an uninterrupted conversation.  We get so used to those little touchpoints that keep our lines of communication open and our sanity intact.

Amid the chaos of all our summer togetherness, allllllll of that is put on hold. 

Danger zone

I notice some danger signs when the on-hold music is playing.  My bad emotional habits and even worse communication patterns start poking holes in everything we’ve worked so hard to build in our marriage and family. 

When my world gets noisy and hectic, this mama retreats in.  The external busy-ness turns me quiet and I go off alone with my thoughts. 

When I do not make space and time for my real thoughts and feelings, or when I feel too frazzled to communicate them, I stuff them.  And stuffing feelings sets my pressure cooker to “High.”

Pressure release

My mother asked me a simple question on the phone last week that pushed the “Pressure Release” button.  The lump I had been ignoring in my throat for the last (how long?!!!) gave way and I burst into tears in what turned into an epic, snot-on-the-ground meltdown. 

Thank GOD for moms, or spouses, or whomever your safe people are.  They know the right buttons to push and they’re tough enough and soft enough to clean up the mess. 

After I wiped my face clean and pulled myself together, I told Jack about my conversation with my mother. And I realized by the look on his wide-eyed, surprised face that I hadn’t told him ANY of it until that moment.  Yikes. 

I had bottled up that whole mess of toxic thoughts and worry and gone radio-silent.  For a couple weeks, is my best guess.  Not good.  

I call foul

Those periods of radio silence are typically when I start displaying my most unsportsmanlike conduct.  Why? Well, because somewhere in that two-week fortress of solitude I had started picking him apart for not knowing I was upset (foul) and not doing more to fix it (yellow card) and not helping to give me a break with the kids so I could get my head screwed on straight (red card).  It did not matter that he had absolutely no idea I was upset about something that had nothing to do with him.  Then to make matters even worse I somehow managed to make it completely his fault. 

Isolation is never good for me.  I like to recharge in the quiet, but when I stay there too long things go sideways.  Introverts, this is painful to read and accept, but too much aloneness is not good for us.  Extroverts, we need your help.  Pull us out of our cozy holes (or self-decorated pits of despair) from time to time.  We need to see the sunshine and get a breath of fresh air.

So I unloaded all my stuffed-up feelings, and in the light of day they didn’t seem so impossible anymore.  Funny.  I bounced them off another human being, which brought me some clarity and perspective and humor (don’t underestimate it’s superpowers).  I always leave those conversations feeling ridiculous for not speaking up sooner yet overwhelmingly lighter for having finally done so. 

The solution for loneliness is connection

It’s counterintuitive, but the busy of summer – or any hectic season – can actually leave us feeling really lonely.  When we all get hyperfocused in our own lanes, with blinders on, it’s easy to fall out of connection with the people we love most.  Making time for your marriage during the summer frenzy means intentionally connecting with each other, because there really is a way to work and live and love and thrive in the middle of all the chaos.  It looks very different but it is possible. 

In order to find that sweet spot, we have to prioritize what matters in a more intentional way:

7 tips for making time for your marriage during the summer

1. Decide what matters most

For the two of us, we need face to face connection with no distraction.  So we put away the 92 loads of laundry covering our prayer chair and made that space special again.  We’ve sat in our chair every day since, even just for half a cup of coffee or reading together after the kids have gone to sleep.  Even if they’re awake and popping in and out of the room while we’re snuggled up there, it’s no less special, because we’re together.

We also need time for creative dreaming – both for our work and for our relationship.  Fortunately we’ve found great pockets of time to do that when the kids have been invited for outings (thank you Grandma for swimming and Grannie for pickleball lessons!).  The baby goes down for a nap and we make all the hay while the sun shines. 

Do you value recreation?  Playing together?  Take a walk together or go bowling, or find inexpensive tickets to a local sporting event (high school or college teams are  great too!).  Even if the kids are with you it will help fill that need.  Our children eat their way through the baseball stadium and we definitely have to watch a little closer for foul balls but it’s still really fun.

If you value quality time through conversation, that one has to be uninterrupted sometimes or you’ll start feeling really frustrated.  Just get creative. 

2. Cash in on easy ways to invest in each other

Don’t forget all those love languages – words of affirmation, gifts, touch, quality time, and acts of service.  These are the easiest and fastest ways to stay connected during a wild season.  A big fat French kiss in the middle of the kitchen for no reason takes 10 seconds (or however long you want it to) and costs you nothing.  Plus it grosses out your kids and that’s fun. 

3. Making time for your marriage on family vacation is actually possible

Making time for your marriage is of double importance if you’re on vacation.  We found out by accident last year that the date night we got so used to just doesn’t happen when you’re on a family vacay.  Our favorite trick?  Crack open a bottle of wine in the room/on the balcony/right outside in the hallway/in the bathroom after the kids have fallen asleep in the hotel room.  With any luck they’re so tired after a day of vacation fun that they’ll sleep through just about anything.  You know what I mean.    

4. Get creative and make time for those needs

If a need is going unmet, or pushed aside, make time for it today.  Child care is an easy excuse so don’t buy into it.  Hire someone.  Trade days.  Pay in meatballs.  It doesn’t matter.  Women are the most marvelous magicians when it comes to making things happen.  If you need outside-the-box ideas, here you go

My best hard-earned advice on this one: set a regular date, and don’t break it.  Or, set the next one before you walk in the door from the last one.  Having that time to look forward to is sometimes enough to keep your head above water and your blood pressure down during the crazy of summer. 

Another creative way to connect is to read something “together.”  Buy two copies and agree on a chapter or number of pages each day.  It will give you something to talk about besides work, or the latest gory news, or complaints about things that don’t matter.  Check down at the bottom here for some of my favorite suggestions for easy, light, yet impactful books to read together as a couple. 

5. Use your time wisely

If you’re so out of touch that you’re feeling resentful, resist the urge to pick a fight during the fleeting moments you do have together.  If something needs addressing, do it kindly and without using “you always” or “we never.”  Extremes are never rarely true.  If connection is what you’re craving, use your precious few moments together to actually connect instead of tearing each other apart.  You’ll come home feeling worse than you did before you left, and then even worse when you hand a babysitter cash payment for your hour of misery. 

Similarly, save the logistics, mundane laundry list items, and scheduling reminders for the next time you’re washing dishes after dinner or brushing your teeth before bed.  Dates are for fun!

Power down

Sometimes simply turning your phone off is enough to meaningfully connect, distraction-free, no sitter required.  Both our careers lend themselves to late-night and early-morning communication from all portals which can become all-consuming if we’re not careful.  If you’re constantly distracted by other people’s needs, how in the world can you recognize and fulfill each other’s? 

Don’t miss what Brene Brown calls “sliding door moments:” quiet and subtle opportunities to enter your person’s head and heart space.  If your face is buried in a screen, you’ll miss the invitations. 

6. Ask better questions

When you start to ask better questions, soon enough you’ll start to get better answers.  In her Oprah Masterclass, Diane Sawyer shares that growing up, her father never asked her and her siblings how their day was.  Rather, he always asked them, “what questions did you ask today?”  Diane attributes her life’s success in journalism her to unquenchable curiosity and her desire to know more, always. 

When was the last time you learned something new about your spouse?  When your goal is to earn a PhD in the person you love most, no question is too small.  (Remind me to tell you someday how “what’s your favorite sandwich” almost cost us our marriage.  Not exaggerating… true story.)  

7. Recognize that making time for your marriage in the summer just looks different

There are some unrealistic expectations you’ll have to release, and some of the mania you’ll just have to roll with.  However, there is one disclaimer: if you are feeling out of touch, out of sync, out of whack, out of patience, or out of your mind, SPEAK UP.  There is no sense ugly crying over something with such a simple solution: making time for your marriage and for each other.

Related post: Releasing unrealistic expectations

In a case of divine irony, the baby just coughed up a mouthful of dirt from my living room plant and the big kids are arguing over a toy.  Jack is out showing houses and I’ve got a pile of deliveries that we need to make before we stop off at the church.  To close out the day’s whirlwind of activity, I bought all the fixins for hamburgers and we’ll grill tonight as a family with our phones off.  Then we’ll put everybody to bed on time and watch the next episode of Stranger Things because I am addicted to it now even though it is straight up giving me nightmares. (Why do we do this to ourselves??)

Making time for your marriage may look as ordinary as the way we do it, or it may look completely different based on your lifestyle. The bottom line is: find the little moments where you can and claim them as yours.  Your life is your own, every last crazy little second of it.

Our next date is on Saturday.  I’m counting the minutes.   

HP,

J

Making time for your marriage is fun when you have a book to read together. Here are a few of my favorites!

These are affiliate links! If you choose to purchase a book through one of these links, you won’t pay a penny more, but I’ll receive a small commission that helps keep our little community up and running. <3

The Love Dare by Alex Kendrick and Stephen Kendrick (40-day study with a daily 1-2 page read, easy and fun action item to love your spouse well)

People of the Second Chance by Mike Foster (inspiring stories about using your broken self to serve broken people – my husband loved this book.)

Think outside the box and choose ANY book in a genre you both enjoy!! We are both entrepreneurs so we like nerdy stuff like:

The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley PhD and William D. Danko PhD (secrets to creating wealth)

The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy (how making better everyday decisions changes your life exponentially in the long run)

How Successful People Grow by John Maxwell (timeless strategies for personal growth and leadership)

I love historical fiction/non-fiction and biographies… he likes business and sci-fi… ask your spouse what they would like to read together and be willing to try something new. You will be amazed how your conversations change when you fill your minds with good and new stuff together.

PS: Join the conversation at our Heartfully Present Facebook community! I’d love to know what book(s) you decide to take on this summer.

Making time for your marriage in the summer | 7 tips for summer love | pineapple with sunglasses
sleeping baby | 9 month old baby | bouncing back after having a baby at 35
Jul 05

9 months out: bouncing back at thirty-something

By Jessica Allen | Family , Life

All I ever wanted was to be a mom.

Now as an adult, I realize that there are so many other things I want too, and need, and am still meant for.  But when I get frantic trying to wear all the hats, there’s a part of me that tugs on my tailored suit coat and gently whispers: this is your most important work. 

The myth of bouncing back

Having a baby at thirty-five is definitely different than having a baby at twenty-six.  Nothing “bounces back.”  Literally nothing.  Can we stop cramming that idea of bouncing back down people’s throats?  Who wants to bounce back, anyway?  Don’t we want to go forward?  Forward with gained wisdom, increased humility, refined skills, deepened relationships, and focused priorities?

My body has grown and delivered three tiny humans (some tinier than others) and nourished them faithfully.  She bears the weight of their little bodies and keeps up with their needs.  She has no intention of bouncing back quickly and I am not pushing her to do so. Rather, I am good to her, mostly – I feed her the greens and coffee and cupcakes she craves, I move gently to soothe her creaks and tender spots, and I have promised at some point I will give her the adequate rest she is calling me for. 

I am tired. 

I loathe that phrase, I really do.

So I rarely utter it, because you’re just as tired as I am, and because “I’m tired” is not something I want to profess or claim over my life.  Speak it and it becomes, yes?

But this is a season that finds me joyfully, fulfillingly, heartfully… tired. 

And I think that’s okay.

In seasons like this, when I can give myself permission to acknowledge that fact, there’s some neat magic that happens.

I can start to acknowledge that I cannot do it all, nor do I want to do it all, nor do I have the patience for anything – or anyone – pressuring me that I should be able to do it all.  Not at full throttle, anyway.  I can give myself permission to take my foot off the gas and enjoy the trip a little.  There’s no contest for who can get to the end of our life the fastest.  (And if there is, I don’t want to compete.)

Related post: Leaning back, bouncing back, and letting go of the pressures motherhood brings

Mental work

Working moms have it tough.  So do stay at home moms.  I am both.  So my mind gets muddy sometimes, and in the swirl of postpartum hormones, that mud can build up to a complete obstruction of view. 

These muddy thoughts are a few of my not-so-favorite things: Mommy guilt, the feeling of being pulled in every direction, fear of what other people think or of being left behind, scary dreams about the baby or too-complicated philosophical questions in sleep-deprived twilight, distorted self-talk, and frustration over how to dress this new and beautiful but completely reshaped body of mine. 

That’s a lot of dysfunction to cram into one, very tired, mind. 

So what helps a little?  The reading, yoga, mindfulness, and personal work I have always relied on for clarity and stillness.  A hot bath.  A great book.  Sobbing it out to my unsuspecting yet always-compassionate mom.    

What helps the most?  The village.  Friends who listen – really listen.  Mentors who lead with patience.  Family who treat the children to excursions and the grownups to a date.  Hired helpers – angels in human skin – who clear the physical clutter and make way for mental clarity too. 

Writing helps, too.  I write because what’s jumbled up in my mind finally makes sense out of my head and onto the paper.  Sometimes, I guess.  Mostly.  Even if it still doesn’t make much sense, I can at least see my thoughts clearly enough to sort them into their proper places and take the next best step forward. 

Isn’t that better than bouncing back?

HP,

J

Elisha: 9 months out

PS: Funny how it all works out – I started this post as a cute and sweet 9 month update of my little guy.  Clearly that was not what was really on my mind.  Since it’s worth a share, here’s what’s happening in baby land:

  • 1 big top tooth (this morning!) and 2 more teeth seconds away from poking through
  • Pulling up and sitting down
  • Can climb the entire flight of stairs and likes to eat the dirt out of my living room dracaena
  • Says ma-ma-ma when he’s excited or needs something
  • Wakes twice in the night, naps twice in the day, best snuggler
  • 20+ pounds, 12-month clothes
  • Strawberry hair, and we think green eyes are here to stay
  • Still makes his crazy gasp-in laugh and thinks his brother and sister are the absolute funniest creatures on the planet
  • Loves to be tossed and flipped, and “jump” into the pool
  • Eats literally everything – watermelon and guacamole are current favorites
  • And
  • He’s so sweet we want 100 more just like him. 
9 months in – this was the morning Elisha was born.

I loved this pregnancy. I was (still am) so proud of my body for doing exactly what it was supposed to do – grow and protect a sweet, fat, healthy little baby.
baby food jar | memory lane | making a memory
Jun 28

Memory Lane

By Jessica Allen | Family

Most days I just toss whole (soft) fruit and veggies on his tray for him to pick up and feed himself.  But lately for convenience, we’ve been trying new tastes from these little jars. As I was washing them out to save (because that’s what Toenjeses do), a huge wave of nostalgia hit my memory bank.

A blast from the past

My mother has a brown wicker sewing basket with a twist clasp.  Since sewing is not her primary gifting, her basket was always a curious mystery to us, high on her closet shelf.  On rare occasions it descended from its place to mend a pocket or loose button, and it was always fun to peek inside.  The silver latch was just a little loose and wiggled on its turn pin. 

From what I remember, it is well-stocked with colored patches, thread, needles, a small plastic click-close box of safety pins, a thimble, a fabric tape measure, and a jar – just like this one – full of buttons.

I’m sure they’re all the spare buttons that came from my dad’s shirts, her blouses, our dresses.  Those buttons we all keep somewhere. (Mine are in my sock drawer, in a ziplock next to the kids’ teeth and Tooth Fairy notes.)

I can still hear the gentle clink of buttons in that jar.

What really came rushing back as I washed that little jar in my sink was the smell of my parents’ closet.  The familiar fragrance of their clothes, mixed with a hint of old letter jackets and new dry-cleaning bags, and the ever-so-faint scent of mothballs stored in an old frosting container (because that’s what Toenjeses do) high up on Dad’s side.

I can see my mom’s shoes in rows under her hanging shirts.  The very back of the closet was a little bit of a mystery, and is my only childhood “monster under the bed” type memory that I can recall. 

Why does smell trigger memory?

I learned long ago that smell triggers our emotional memory.  Why?  Because our olfactory system has a strong feed into the amygdala part of our brain, which is the part that processes emotions.  Our olfactory system also feeds into our hippocampus, which is responsible for developing memories.  Simply put – when you smell something, it makes you feel and remember, because smell feeds into our emotional brain, whereas words (spoken or written) feed into our thinking brain.  This is why certain smells will take you right back to your grandmother’s kitchen, or your high school locker room, or your old boyfriend’s house.

Anyway – all this is to say that a little old and forgotten part of my childhood bubbled up as I soaped the baby and that little bitty jar in my sink.  I dried off the glass and put the lid on, added it to the drawer with the rest of its sister jars that yet don’t have a repurpose, and thanked the universe for that sweet little walk down memory lane. 

And then we got back to the business of creating memories in our own home. Because who knows what special things our little people might remember someday about their childhood?

HP,

J

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Build better belief | solid footing | Belief in marriage | Belief in faith | Belief in confidence
Jun 21

Build better belief

By Jessica Allen | Life , Marriage

When G was 5, we had her in gymnastics.  A favorite treat after class was playing at the nearby park before we went home. 

The monkey bars totally freaked her out.  Until one day she hitched herself up and literally yelled to the entire neighborhood I BELIEVE IN MYSELF!  As she swooped across those bars like it was nothing and dropped down at the end, she stood about 6 inches taller than she was when she started.  I snapped a photo after she made her claim – this has always been one of my favorite pictures of her.  I love the look of determination and solid belief on her face. 

girl with belief on monkey bars | solid grip
G, wiser at 5 than I am at 35.

If only we could remember to claim our belief with that much confidence into adulthood.

I know what I believe when things are good.  But when life gets “lifey” as my friend Michelle says, it’s harder to claim belief and find solid ground. 

So what’s the one belief you hold onto?

Through tough business cycles, I remind myself that my leadership matters.

When ministry feels hard, I step back to admit I am really doing it all for an audience of One.

When friendships fade or fray, I continue to believe that the right people will stick no matter what.

On days where I’ve been more Evil Stepmother than Mary Poppins, I am grateful that despite my imperfections, God made me the perfect mother for my children.

As our marriage hits bumps in the road, I find solid footing on my tried-by-fire knowledge that we’ve already made it through the worst of the worst. 

I did not always have this confidence or these beliefs, in any of these areas.

As I reflect on all I’ve learned (and am continuing to learn) in business, ministry, relationships, parenting, and marriage, I realize any confidence I’ve gained has grown out of the pain of disappointment.  But before I had confident footing on solid ground, all I had was shaky balance on a tiny stone.

You see, in times of new beginning or struggle or disappointment, sure footing is hard to find. 

When you don’t have much belief of your own, just grab onto what’s right within your reach.

As a baby business owner, all I had to hold onto was the training I was given.

When I was a new ministry leader, all I knew to tell myself was that someone was counting on me to show up.

When my first adult friendships broke, I had to repeat to myself over and over that seasons – and sometimes people – come and go, and that the right people will love me for me.  Even the ugly parts.

When I blew it big time as a mother of young children, I had to trust the veterans who said the kids won’t even remember what happened and I can try again better tomorrow.

And when my marriage was falling apart, all I could do was pray and hold on one more day. 

Change starts with you

When even one of these important areas of my life feels shaky, my whole life feels off-kilter.  Imagine what happens when more than one area is out of whack?  What happens when they’re all out of whack? 

I know it’s not pretty because that’s exactly what happened.  When the most important area to me (my marriage) got sideways, it threw off every single other area too.  It warped my whole life because it threw me off. 

When everything around you is going wrong, what’s the common denominator? 

When nothing changes, nothing changes.  And change starts with you.  What are you telling yourself? 

Your beliefs become your thoughts,

your thoughts become your words,

your words become your actions,

your actions become your habits,

your habits become your values,

your values become your destiny.

— Gandhi

Even the tiniest belief will do

Can I tell you what tiny bit of solid ground actually held our whole marriage mess together?  My unwavering belief that our little family is something special, even when the parents didn’t like each other much. 

That was the only sure thing I knew, and all I had.  Since I knew that to be true, my mind and heart could go to work finding more evidence to support that fact.  I could watch my husband talk and play with our children and build respect for him, one baseball practice at a time.  I could listen to him read to them at night and begin to hope and trust that he could offer me that kind of tenderness, too.  I could be vulnerable with small things and when he treated them with care, offer bigger pieces of my heart. 

Those little spots of solid ground slowly started to connect and form a pathway I could trust moving forward.  One tiny, and sometimes very scary, step at a time.  (All of this applied to me too, because he didn’t trust me an inch either.  I had to earn back his trust and confidence piece by piece just like he had to earn mine. His tiny unwavering belief? Well, I asked him. And though the belief he clung to was similar to mine, it had a slightly different angle and included a lot of very colorful words I should not type here. The point is, it doesn’t matter what you hold onto as long as it keeps you in the game and hopeful for the future.)

Claim belief, no matter how small, in every area that matters

Wherever you are in these areas of your life that matter most to you, find some footing – even if it’s one tiny toe on one tiny rock.  Choose to believe a new idea, or invest in it with better words and actions.  Try it.  It might hold weight after all.  And as you learn to trust your shaky foot on that tiny surface, you’ll find bigger and stronger footing as you go. 

You’ll learn to trust people.  You’ll learn to trust yourself.  You might even grow to believe better and stronger things about each situation (and person) as they prove themselves to be true.  It’s a slow build but when you stay faithful to the process, you’ll establish strength you never imagined possible.  Mental strength.  Emotional strength.  Spiritual strength (the best strength of all). 

What belief can you claim?  Let it bring you solid footing in all the ways that matter most. 

HP,

J

Reading List

Just so you know: these are affiliate links. If you choose to purchase a book through these links, you won’t pay a penny more, but I will receive a small commission that helps keep our little community thriving. Thanks!

This I Believe (the Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women) by Jay Allison

This I Believe II (More Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women) by Jay Allison

I know I keep sending you to these specific books and I am sure I will continue to do so. There’s something really game-changing about connecting yourself with people who know what they stand for. Want to shape your own beliefs into more solid ground? Wrestle with them. Ask yourself hard questions. Challenge what you took at face value as a child and test it out in real life. Read biographies of people you admire and want to learn from. Because stretching yourself is the best work you’ll ever do.

Build better belief | belief in marriage | belief in faith | stronger confidence | feet in running shoes standing in water
Say the right thing | How to say the right thing speech bubble | Text message graphic
Jun 06

Say the right thing

By Jessica Allen | Marriage

It’s hard to say the right thing. It’s so hard to say the right thing sometimes that my default is usually not to say it at all.

It’s my personal experience and belief that the most damage in relationships – specifically marriage – is caused by the things we don’t say

Things I struggle to say:

  • Something I needed but chose not to ask for
  • Feelings I needed to share but chose to stay silent
  • A praise I withheld because I was resentful or insecure
  • A missed opportunity to connect or encourage
  • A question I should have asked but didn’t
  • A question I should have answered honestly but didn’t
  • Something I ignored instead of responding to
  • Staying silent because speaking up felt too hard
  • Dressing up a hard topic with softer words (my most frustrating communication blunder)

We’re all human and hopelessly flawed.  It takes guts to 1) say the right thing, 2) at the right time, 3) to the right person, 4) in the right way. 

Accomplishing all four of those simultaneously is a lofty goal.  But it’s possible.  And when you do it right, it will change your relationships for the better. 

Say the right thing

It doesn’t have to be fancy.  Or long-winded.  It doesn’t have to be unkind.  It just has to be said.  Go back to that bullet list of unspoken words up at the top.  What’s that nagging thing you know you need to say?  What do you need to tell your spouse, or your child, or your coworker, or your mom?  Or what do you need to say to yourself?

Maybe it’s admitting there’s a wound that’s not healing. Or maybe it’s offering forgiveness.  (That’s a seventy-times-seven thing, by the way.  And then some.)

Saying the right thing builds trust between hearts.  Not saying the right thing erodes trust between hearts.  We get so scared of what will happen if we speak up.  But what if we were just as mindful of the consequences of staying silent?

Pin yourself down on what you need to say.  I bet you already know what it is.  And I know you have the guts to say it.

Say the right thing, at the right time

Choose your timing carefully.  You know your spouse better than anyone.  Sometimes no time is a good time, so pick the least-bad time.  We have 2 go-to options for hard conversations – our prayer chair with a cup of coffee when the kids are at school, and our backyard with a pizza after the kids are asleep.  Those are safe places we know we can hide in together to tackle the tough stuff. 

The biggest mistake we’ve made is opening up a tough topic 10 minutes before somebody has to leave the house or head into a meeting.  Use your common sense.  Sometimes the hard talk can’t wait but in most cases it probably can.  Give each other the gift of not rushing a hard conversation.  No good comes from that. 

Also, I think we’ve completely missed the point of the phrase “do not let the sun go down upon your anger.”  If you can’t solve a problem before midnight, you’re not going to solve it after midnight either.  Push the pause button, tell each other I Love You, and promise to revisit the conversation tomorrow when you’re both better rested and have a clearer mind.  It works.  Things always look different in the morning. 

Say the right thing, at the right time, to the right person

Maybe I actually did say the right thing… but I said it to the wrong person.

99 times out of 100, there’s no need to loop someone else into a situation between you and another person.  ESPECIALLY if the problem is between you and your spouse.  If you’re seeking wise advice, from someone you trust, then sure, open up.  But if you’re telling a third party simply to complain, or worse, gain ammunition against your spouse, then you’re not talking to the right person.  There’s no sense souring a reputation or wasting time and breath when you could go straight to the source instead. 

Ask yourself, why am I telling this person?  If it’s not for the right reasons, loop them out immediately. 

Say the right thing, at the right time, to the right person, in the right way

Not all conversations are created equal.  Sometimes tough things can be hashed out quickly.  But some words and deeper-rooted issues take a little more thought, a little more time, and a little more care. 

If you get tongue-tied in the heat of the moment, or if it’s addressing something particularly hard, write it down first. 

Get creative

There was a season Jack and I communicated almost exclusively in writing.  (But don’t knock it, because passing notes back and forth like junior high frenemies kept us from putting pen to divorce papers.) 

Remember when I tore the house apart looking for that shell?  I found stacks upon stacks of those folded letters.  Most were too painful to read past a quick glance.  But I think that’s the point.  We got the tough stuff down on paper so nobody could run from it or allow our emotions to squash the other person’s response.  It also allowed us to respond in our own time without blowing up and saying things we regretted. 

Let it fall on deaf ears

As we put our marriage back together, there were things I needed to say to other people for my own benefit – not theirs.  They were things I needed to get out of my head and heart, but not necessarily things they needed to hear.  So I wrote them down on slips of paper and burned them in our backyard grill.  There was something really satisfying about setting fire to those words.  A literal burning away of hurts, failures, and heartaches.  Get rid of your emotional junk so your heart is clear and open for the people you love most.

Sometimes, the right way to say something is to not say it at all 

Back to forgiveness…

I whisper those three little words probably 10 times every day.  Mostly, to myself.  I forgive you.  And also to Jack.  I forgive you too.  I don’t say it out loud much because he doesn’t need to hear me say it a million times.  (At least I don’t think so, anyway.  Maybe he does.  Stay tuned on that.)

I believe God is doing a good work in me every time I humble myself enough to ask Him for help offering silent forgiveness for myself and other people.  There’s healing power in it.  Try it.  You’ll like it. 

Put it all into practice

Your gut will tell you what you need to say.  Seek out the right person, and plan your approach. 

All it takes is 20 seconds of courage to get it out. 

And in doing so, you’ll breathe life into your most treasured relationships. 

HP,

J

Say the right thing | How to say the right thing speech bubble | Text message graphic
Lose Control |Find what you can count on | out of control horse
May 30

Lose Control (and find what you can count on)

By Jessica Allen | Faith , Life

Things I can control

My attitude

My spiritual life

My communication

My health

My choices

My investment into my relationships

My self care

Things I cannot control

Literally Everything Else.

Baby out of control mess
Clearly.

I buck hard against this Universal Truth, but that’s the thing about Universal Truths – they do not break.

This is a season (May, 2019, Raising Small Children, My 30’s, Little League, Entrepreneurship, The Last Day Of School Before Summer, etc.) that is forcing me to take exactly one blessed day at a blessed time.  My brain cannot handle any more than that. 

I like to plan and know what to expect, but so much of what’s happening in our little family’s life is beyond our control.  It’s unsettling in many ways.  Yet in other aspects, it’s a true relief.

One day at a time

The concept of “one day at a time” is held closely in the recovery world.  It’s the practice of being responsible for what you can, releasing the rest, and finding joy/contentment/peace one day at a time. 

If this practice is healthy and helpful for people in recovery, and those who love them most, surely it’s good for all the rest of us too.

Living one day at a time means I am accountable only for where I am and what I am doing (giving to myself and the world and other people) in this present moment. 

It’s as simple as remembering – and whispering to yourself as often as you need to – the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. 

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

Schedules will get overwhelming.

People will disappoint you.

You will drop the ball on something important.

Life will throw you a curve ball you never saw coming.

So what can I count on?

I know that no matter what, the constants I can count on are:

  1. My spiritual life (even when I wanted God to leave, He never did),
  2. My commitment to my own mental/emotional/physical wellness, and
  3. I have also learned, through fire and actual hell on earth, that there are people I can actually count on.  They are human, and they will undoubtedly disappoint me from time to time, just as I will disappoint them.  But it is a gift to know who you can truly trust when the chips are down.  My husband, our parents, our siblings, and a few inner circle friends are my anchors.  All this hype about “finding your tribe?” This is all the tribe I need.

Who are those people in your life?  Those people that sing your song back to you when you’ve forgotten how it goes.  Do you have them?

Who are you that person for? 

When you lose control

When life swirls all crazy and you can’t see the next step, stop grasping for control.  (It’s always just beyond our reach anyway.)

Instead, go back to what you can count on

Did you know there is a “rest of” the Serenity Prayer? 

After “wisdom to know the difference,” it continues:

Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time;

Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;

Taking, as He did, this sinful world

As it is, not as I would have it;

Trusting that He will make all things right

If I surrender to His will;

That I may be reasonably happy in this life

And supremely happy with Him

Forever in the next.

Amen.

One. Moment. At. A. Time. 

Lean into your faith.  Invest in your health.  Grab hold of your people.  It’s what you can count on. 

Heartfully Present,

J

Reading list:

This is an affiliate link – if you choose to purchase a book through this link, you won’t pay a penny more, but I’ll receive a small commission that helps keep our little community up and running.

The Way of Serenity (Finding Happiness in The Serenity Prayer) by Father Jonathan Morris

Lose control | Find what you can count on | out of control horse
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