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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.

Yes I can but I need some help | asking for support in a culture that idolizes independence | black text on white background
Oct 12

I can, but I need help!

By Jessica Allen | Life

I had a failed epidural with Elisha, my 2-year-old. 

Kudos to all the mamas who loved and embraced natural childbirth.  My pain-management clan hails to you with honor... but I will never join your tribe.  You would never teach me your secret handshake.  I would bring much shame upon your name.  

I don’t really know what happened the day E was born, but there was no pain relief.  I have never experienced such excruciating pain in my life, although kidney stones are close.

Everyone was doing their very best to A) get the epidural working, and B) help me in case it didn’t, when all of a sudden someone said “I can’t do this!”

I whipped my head around to figure out what lunatic picked this moment for negativity, so I could ask her to politely get it together or leave.  Imagine my horror when I realized that statement came out of ME.

I was so caught off guard that if it weren’t for the excruciating pain I was in, I would have made fun of myself and joked about throwing myself out of the room.  “I can’t” is not part of my vocabulary, especially since I became a parent.  I don’t think there’s a more limiting statement we could think, believe, or model for others. 

"I can," "I can't," and "I won't"

Now there are a lot of things “I won’t.”  It’s important to understand how to give an intentional and thoughtful NO.  Saying “no” isn’t admitting “I can’t;” Saying “no” is communicating “I choose not to allocate my valuable time and energy on this particular task.” Doesn’t that feel more empowering than being exhausted and run ragged all the time because we overcommitted to everyone else’s needs?

But.

Most times, the only way “I can” is with a whole lot of help. We’ve lost this art of asking for help, and accepting it too, in an age of self-sufficiency and toxic independence and Instagram-worthy pictures of our perfect mess-free lives.  Somehow we’ve started feeling shame if we can’t do it all ourselves, which is absurd because we absolutely cannot.  We cannot do it all.  Which is why it takes a healthy balance of NO and YES BUT to keep all the plates in the air. 

So rather than shutting down and screaming I CAN’T! at the people I love most, here’s what I can say instead to the good healthy YESSES I want to give in my life:

I can...

I can… after I get a good night’s sleep.

I can… with the advice and support of a good friend.

I can… once I’ve taken the steps I need to get my head screwed on straight and tight.

I can… after I drink some water and eat that healthy (or indulgent) meal my body’s craving. 

I can… once I’ve burned some physical energy.

I can… but not right now.  It needs to wait until tomorrow or next week or next month. 

I can… with a little help caring for my children.

"I can" in 2020, but I need to ask for help

Because the thing is, we’re all panting through 2020’s failed epidural right now.  There’s nothing taking the edge off.  We’re all feeling every bit of searing pain, anxiety, and pressure.  It may be hitting you mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically, financially, professionally, relationally, or politically.

I bet you’ve probably panicked at least once and thrown some things – and some people – out of your proverbial room.    

So what do you need to help you “I can?” 

Help with time management, child care, meals, or housework?

A listening and non-judgmental ear?

To excuse yourself from a conversation – or relationship – that is causing you anxiety and stress?

A physical wellness visit with your doctor?

An hour to yourself, no distractions?

This is self care.  Sure, your version of self care may include a bubble bath, but I’ve realized the most effective self care involves asking myself “what do you really need right now to feel well and healthy?”

Needs balance out

Today I needed a run (like a lung-busting lashing) and some vitamin D.  Yesterday I needed to cry and eat chicken wings.  Both days were equally satisfying and equally important.  It all balances out in the end.  If you find yourself leaning too far to the indulgent side of self care, add in a few physically nurturing activities.  If you can’t bring yourself to do that, it’s okay for awhile… but if you need help steering the ship a little differently, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help.  That’s one “I can…” mindset you’ll love: “I can… with a little guidance and support.”  Related: Not Okay

The rest of the story

The rest of the story from the delivery room is that my “I can’t” outburst was obviously wrong, because I actually can, and I finally did.  I got a cute fat baby as my reward.  And a chocolate pie, delivered by my mother who was circling the parking lot until the moment she could come inside.  The epidural finally kicked in about 20 minutes after he was born, and I couldn’t feel a thing for about 8 hours.  Which was fine, because the baby and the pie (and the Astros playoff game!) kept me plenty busy.  After all was said and done, I felt ridiculous for sobbing “I can’t.”

But in my most panicky pain, all I could think was “I can’t.”  And the only reason I COULD that day was because my very concerned husband and my incredible L&D nurse stepped in and squashed all that crazy talk that was coming out of my mouth.  Nobody told me to “just try harder” or “it’ll be okay” or “cheer up Charlie.”  They held my hands and helped me focus and get the job done.  They gave me the actual physical and emotional support I needed, got into my head and on my level, and helped me through every step of the way. THAT is the kind of help and support we all need in every aspect of our lives.

A tough truth about getting the help you need

Here's a tough truth I had to learn: if you aren't getting the help and support you need, it is your responsibility to get it. It may look like making some phone calls, making a list, reworking your family budget of time or finances, or confiding in a trusted person.  If you are truly unwell, it may look like asking someone to help you get the help you need.  Because when you're crawling on rock bottom, asking for help can feel impossible.  There are people in your life who want to help.  But they will never know you need it unless you ask.  Summon that 20 seconds of courage, and pick up the phone.  

What support do you need to help you "I can?"

Every day, and especially right now, a season of insanity I TRULY BELIEVE we will only get through by loving and helping each other.

What does your version of “I can…” look like right now?  What do you need to say NO to?  Who and what can support you in your good YESSES?  And how can you set some of those support systems in place?  (like: today?)

HP,

J <3

October | Pregnancy Loss Month | Why I wish Halloween would disappear | black text on white background with a graphic of a flying bat
Oct 05

October: Pregnancy Loss Month (and why I wish Halloween would disappear)

By Jessica Allen | Grief

Today’s my little guy’s birthday. He’s got the fall sniffles, so he’s extra snuggly. Which is a special treat, since he's 2 and on the move ALL the time. 

We decorated over the weekend for his taco party, because taco is his favorite word.  We decorated for Halloween too. I don’t usually feel like being festive for any occasion in October. But this year, to my great surprise it actually sounded fun to decorate, and I rode the wave while it lasted. My bank card rode that wave too… sorry, babe. Apparently in 2020 the price of October wellness is a giant fuzzy spider that’s now perched on our palm tree.

Our 10-year-old is elated – she loves a theme and all things “extra.” So when Halloween rolls around, her favorite holiday, she wants to go all out.  

Why I wish Halloween would disappear

I’ve avoided a conversation about Halloween every year until now. Last year we just skipped Halloween all together. I hung up cheerful pumpkins and scarecrows for “fall” instead and I haven’t heard the end of it since. I finally had to explain to her last week in the Party City parking lot why Mommy just can’t do creepy Halloween. What I can do are jack-o-lanterns and bats and even a quirky sunbathing skeleton or two (see: our front lawn). But I draw the line at anything haunted or creepy or gory or “undead.” Blood, death, possessed children, psychotic killers, corpse brides… no thanks. 

This stuff was never really my cup of tea anyway. So once we had to contend with actual death in the month of October, I really wished Halloween would just go away. Visiting a real burial ground is hard enough when it’s holy and consecrated, so I’m definitely not interested in zombies coming out of a haunted one. 

Even watching the words spill across the page here makes me roll my own eyes at my own self and think “Lord woman, just lighten up already. The kid just wants to put a life-size animated vampire on the front porch; what’s the big deal?” 

I wish I could lighten up. Maybe someday. Maybe? 

October is pregnancy loss month

October’s the month our son was born and died, and it’s also coincidentally National Pregnancy Loss month. It’s also the month we almost lost our marriage.  It’s the month our youngest son was born too. Add on top this year a very public celebrity pregnancy loss, and Covid, and a political circus, a distinct turn of the season that sent me reeling (more on that later), and a total career/lifestyle change I chose… there’s a lot swirling in my mind.  

I could stuff it all, which never goes well, or I could take the time to sort through it, place it in its proper perspective, make some peace with what I can, and bow to the inevitability of the process. I can’t “skip” this part by hanging up scarecrows. Nor can I undo what’s been done in my life or engineer its future outcome. As hard as I try to play God, especially in the month of October, I'm (frustratingly) only human.      

So where am I supposed to start?

So I’ve been a little quiet here on the blog and on social media, because it’s hard to know where to start. (That and: I burned the $%&@ out of the heel of my hand pulling a 500* cast-iron skillet out of the oven.  It hurts to type and write.)

Some struggles are best shared raw, real, unfiltered, because we only get through them with authenticity and the support of a loving community. One of the strange blessings that's come out of this pregnancy loss experience is the collection of women I'm grateful to connect with on a soul level. I've heard from many of them already this October. They - you - mean the world to me.  

Yet while sorrow is lessened when shared in community, some pieces of our stories are better left shared once the hero has slayed the dragon. The play-by-play is messy and often too raw to share publicly.  

I think we do a pretty good mix of raw authenticity and victory dancing here. 

And right in the middle of all this swirling heart work, my sweet munchkin turns TWO today. He’s still new life. A wide-open road, a blank canvas, a fresh, brand new tiny person full of nothing but divinity and possibility.  

Good stuff in, bad stuff out

So just for today, I don’t want to think about the afterlife or the in-between. I don’t want to think about werewolves and witches, or angels and demons, or heroes and dragons, or grief and the pain of pregnancy loss. I want to snuggle my tiny beefcake and kiss his dimples and be present for every waking moment of the unreasonably beautiful life we have right here. There’s enough scary stuff out there that will find us even when we’re not looking for it. So I’m not going to voluntarily invite any of it in.

All that scary can stay on the porch like G’s vampire. Politely waiting its turn to be dealt with. I will address it soon enough. But today I’m not opening the door.  

I wish I could simplify October. I’d do it in a heartbeat. Maybe someday? 

Happy birthday, sweet E. Thank you for reminding me daily that we serve a God who loves us more fiercely yet tenderly than we could ever truly understand in our human form, and who will look into our eyes one day to answer every single one of our questions with care. 

HP,

J

PS:

If you or someone you know is struggling with the heartbreak and emotional/relational complexity of pregnancy loss, know you're not alone. There are many organizations and individuals who can help and provide a compassionate listening ear. I'm one of them. Just drop me a note here or over on our Facebook/IG communities @Heartfully Present.  

Jessica in a hat and Elisha wearing a TWO shirt on his birthday

Happy 2nd Birthday, buddy!

Encouragement for pregnancy loss and grief

Grief quote on pregnancy loss
Grief quote on moving forward
Sep 18

On Grief: loose ends and closing chapters

By Jessica Allen | Grief

It takes time to tie the loose ends of grief. I am no stranger to this fact but I don't have to like it.

A wise woman said to me today: you know you’re grieving, right?

I responded not-as-wisely: I KNOW AND IT SUCKS AND I HATE IT. (as I cried into a cup of coffee and wiped my nose with the hem of my shirt).

Closing chapters is griefy for me.  I think it’s griefy for everybody, actually. But there’s something about my personal wiring and my own precarious peace-treaty with death that makes chapter-closing especially hard.  

It’s not that I’m afraid.  I’ve done enough searching on this to know it’s not fear that holds me back.  

Rather, it’s hard for me to understand how to hold dearly to what was while moving through what is and marching bravely into what is still to come.

What was is miraculous and beautiful. No amount of what happened next or what is now or what is still to come can change the significance or weight or dearness that what was means to me. With its living fibers woven into my mind and heart, what was is such an integral part of me that I can’t ignore it. Because minimizing or negating it would be severing myself from myself. I can’t unlive my life, or unform a friendship, or unbecome who I am, or unknow what I know to be true. I can’t pretend it didn’t happen, or that it wasn’t impactful, or that its loss doesn’t sometimes make me twinge in sadness.

But when I hold onto what was without putting it into proper perspective, it’s difficult to be present for what is and absolutely impossible to move forward into what is still to come. Too many loose ends trip me up and snare my steps.

I don’t have any answers for this one, other than continued work and prayer. But if you’re a holder-onner like me, know that your messy loose ends are worth exploring. Not all of them will get tied, and we all have to get okay with that. Others of them will get tied in ways that bring peaceful closure, which is a gift. And still more of them will get tied in ways that hurt you or the people you care about, because life is messy, and the only person you can control is yourself. (Even that is a toss-up sometimes.)

We each get to choose which ends we tie up. It’s the only way we can successfully close chapters.

Even at that, you can see that the not-so-subtle imagery here suggests I’m not even going to commit to closing a whole book. I am willing, however, to entertain the idea of turning one page to close a chapter.  Today I’m willing, anyway. Ask me tomorrow and you might get a different answer.

Are you a cutter-offer, or a holder-onner? What helps you tie up your loose ends and close chapters?

HP,

  J 

I can honor what was while being present for what is and marching forward into what is still to come | black script on white background | loose ends of grief
Forgiveness 101: what it is, and what it isn't. Black text on white background.
Sep 04

Forgiveness 101: what it IS & what it ISN’T

By Jessica Allen | Life , Marriage

Forgiveness can bring us peace and a path forward.  So why does it feel so impossible sometimes?


I'll answer that question by asking two more; the two big questions I ask myself every day:


Do I want to be well?

And,

How can I cultivate more peace in my life?

If I truly want to be well, it requires action on my part.  Which means I really have to be honest with my answer to this question. Because if I truly want to be well, it means evaluating my thought life, my spiritual and human relationships, and my physical health, and adjusting the sails accordingly.  

Which always leads me to my next big question:

How can I cultivate more peace in my life?  When I look at my thoughts, my relationships, and my health, it’s almost a guarantee that cultivating peace means letting go.  And the first step for me is forgiveness.

Forgiveness is the greatest gift you can give yourself.  The energy we spend holding onto resentment, frustration, and the score card is energy better spent literally anywhere else.  I can’t even get to Gratitude until I pay a visit to Forgiveness. 

Forgiveness gets a bum rap sometimes because our world likes justice instead.  Accountability.  No excuses. 

But forgiveness is a critical part of justice.  If you’ve ever watched emotional courtroom victim testimonies, even in the most heinous crimes, you will find seemingly-supernatural examples of victims forgiving their aggressor.  Not for the aggressor’s benefit… but for the sake of the victims’ own peace.  The only way to heal and move forward is to practice forgiveness within yourself. 

Before we dig into what forgiveness IS, let’s go ahead and call out what forgiveness is not

Forgiveness is NOT:

  • Extending trusting immediately (again or ever)
  • Excusing the violation
  • Saying “it’s okay” (because it wasn’t)
  • Forgetting what happened
  • A one-time solution
  • A magical happy-face pain eraser
  • Easy

Forgiveness isn’t easy.  It’s one of the hardest skills we can put into practice.  But the concept is simple. 

9 things forgiveness IS:

1. It releases the other person from the debt you feel/think they owe

Releasing expectations that the other person is going to change

This is the basis of forgiveness.  The deeper the wound, the harder it is to pardon the one who wounded you.  It's a choice.  Where we get bogged down in forgiveness is when we try to pack all these other peripherally-related things into the same backpack: trust, love, and hope.  Those may come again in time.  But the whole entire point of forgiveness is to help you move forward from the pain you're stuck in.  Nothing good happens until you decide anger is too heavy a burden to bear.  And honestly, releasing the other person from the debt you feel they owe is just good expectations-management - they're probably never going to "repay" you as fully as you feel you deserve anyway.)

2. Forgiveness is releasing any and all expectations that the other person will change. 

Forgiveness is releasing any and all expectations that the other person is going to change, black text on white background

We know the only person we can change is ourselves.  So let’s agree to stop setting ourselves up for disappointment by expecting our “punishment” to affect any change.  Drop the pressure.  The other person might surprise you.  (Also, they might not, and then you’ll know for sure.)

Related: Releasing Expectations

3. It does not mean you can or should trust the person again.

You don't have to trust someone now or ever again, black text on white background

If someone hits me with a 2x4, I can choose to forgive them.  But you bet I’ll never stand near them in a lumberyard.  (Thank you to our first marriage counselor for this illustration I still hold onto.). Trust is lost in an instant and earned back one tiny trustworthy behavior at a time.  Be patient.  But set good boundaries in the meantime. 

Tough truth I had to learn: so many of us get hung up on forgiveness because “I can’t trust him/her anymore.” ⁣⁣That’s not forgiveness. That’s trust. And they are two separate things.⁣⁣ You can have forgiveness without trust. But you can’t ever (ever, ever) rebuild trust without forgiveness. ⁣⁣Try forgiveness first. Trust may come in time.⁣

4. It sets aside your anger and pain in exchange for pursuing your own personal peace.

Set aside your anger and pain in exchange for pursuing your own personal peace, black text on white background

Seems impossible sometimes, but swapping out poison for peace within is the best trade ever.  

I'll note here that when forgiveness feels MOST impossible, faith takes over.  God, who has forgiven the unforgivable in me, can help me forgive what feels unforgivable in others.  There's not much we can do all by ourselves.  Especially forgiving someone who deeply wounded you.  This supernatural grace is available from the One who created you.  Just ask.  Be willing to try.  

Related: Choose love

5. It's choosing never to use a person's offense as a weapon ever again.

choose never to use a person's offense as a weapon ever again, black text on white background

You can’t simultaneously forgive someone and continue to blame them for what they did.  Healing won’t happen if you keep bringing up the offense... the shame and resentment they’ll feel, and the anger reward you’ll feel will both stand in the way of moving forward.

Related: The Blame Game

6. It's essential in any relationship you want to flourish.

Forgiveness isn't required in relationships, but forgiveness is essential in any relationship you want to flourish, black text on white background

It wasn’t until I made the mental switch from “fighting against him” to “fighting with him” that our runaway train wreck finally found some light at the end of the tunnel. It took both of us grasping that concept to move forward. Fighting (and the resulting wounds that follow) is normal. If you’re not arguing, even occasionally, someone’s not being honest. The real question is: are you fighting against each other, or with and FOR each other?

What’s the ultimate goal at the end of the fight: to be right, or to be closer as a couple?

Related: Marriage Fights: 10 things to say instead AND Say this, not that

7. You most likely have to offer it first before it's extended to you too.

Forgiveness is something you most likely have to offer first before it's extended to you too, black text on white background

I think this is the biggest reason it feels so hard to forgive people. Someone has to go first.

8. It brings healing but that healing is yours alone to choose.

healing is yours alone to choose, black text on white background

There's a doorway to healing, wide open in front of you. No one can force you to walk through that door to forgive them, but you'll stand in your own way of peace and healing every moment you choose not to.  It's an inside job: a daily choice, over and over again within yourself.

9. It can set you free.

Forgiveness is setting yourself free, black text on white background

Forgiveness is the greatest gift you can give yourself. The energy we spend holding onto unforgiveness in the form of anger, resentment, frustration, and the score card is energy better spent literally anywhere else. It will stand in the way of anything good you desire for your life. We talk all the time about reflecting in gratitude daily. But I can’t even get to Gratitude until I pay a visit to Forgiveness.

Today's personal forgiveness list:

  • I forgive myself for losing my patience with my daughter yesterday over a mundane household chore
  • I forgive my toddler for refusing to go to sleep last night
  • I forgive God for allowing suffering in the world (just a few light items on my mind last night!!!)
  • I forgive my knees for aching and my neck for pinching when I woke up
  • Some personal marriage and family stuff

Some of these pains sound fluffy when I look at them, but letting go of even these “simple” things frees my spirit up for the people and tasks which deserve my presence today.

So how do you know when you’ve truly forgiven?

When that person can pass through your mind peacefully and without stirring up trouble.  It might twinge you, because forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting, but you can bless and release them before they drill holes in your proverbial boat. 

Which is why forgiveness is 100% a gift to yourself.  It takes daily, intentional work. 

So... what’s on your forgiveness list? What’s the most powerful form of forgiveness you’ve ever received?  And what aspects of forgiveness do you struggle with?  Drop a comment or send a message.  And be sure to check out our social channels for all these graphics and bite-sized forgiveness thoughts over the past week or so.  Facebook: Heartfully Present, and Instagram @heartfullypresent

Last but certainly not least, I humbly invite you to share this post with someone you know who is struggling with forgiveness, either on the giving or receiving end.  None of this is easy.  But we're stronger, smarter, better, and more grace-filled when we try it together.  

HP,

J <3

Everything happens for a reason | and other unhelpful things we say to people who are hurting | white background, black text, teal broken arrow
Aug 18

Everything happens for a reason

By Jessica Allen | Grief

If I had a nickel for every time someone told me (or I told someone) everything happens for a reason… I’d be able to throw a giant bag of nickels through the hole I just punched in the wall.

On the chance that you’re new here, I have a son who lives in the great beyond.  Nobody asked, but I’ll tell you anyway that my vision of heaven is a place filled with soft, warm light, and no more pain, and Jesus snuggles and reads books to my little boy until I can get there myself.  Then we’ll sip coffee that is always the perfect hot, piled on top of each other in the coziest overstuffed chair, and we’ll never wonder about anything achy ever again because inside that beautiful eternity we will have come to learn everything we need to know – and nothing we don’t.  There’s nothing there but love.

I think about heaven just enough to keep my feet moving down here on planet earth. 

Because down here, grief is still a b****.  And just when you think you’ve trained the beast, it gets off leash and starts eating out of the trash, making a tremendously inconvenient mess that you have to clean up again.  And you’re mad at the animal, but not really.  Because its presence and companionship are part of the person you love and lost, and part of who you are too, mess and all. 

Lists

In my book I wrote two lists.  Well, I actually wrote a lot of lists.  But the two I’m talking about here are the lists of “things to say and do to help a person in grief” and “Things Not to Ever Say or Do to a Person in Grief.”

Both lists are equally important.  Humans are quirky creatures – we inherently want to help the people we love who are struggling, often so desperately that we end up hurting them instead in the subconscious process of trying to alleviate our own pain and discomfort. 

“But I’d never want to hurt someone who’s already hurting!” you say. 

Me either.

But I’ve been guilty of my fair share of Saying Stupid Things.  Mostly because I felt like I needed to be profound or inspirational.  Or because silence made me uncomfortable.  Or because it hurt me too much to sit with someone’s pain.

Notice the common factor: me

Me, me, me.  It’s rare that many of our well-intended words have anything to do with the other person.  We’re usually too wrapped up in our own itchy discomfort to pause long enough to ask: what does my hurting friend really need? 

If you can’t say something nice…

I wish I had known earlier in my life that compassionate, silent presence is often the most comforting gift of all to someone in pain.    

Whatever your person is going through, it's swinging through their life like a wrecking ball.  And there is likely nothing you could offer that will fix it, solve it, soothe it, or make it go away.  As a general rule, if you wouldn’t write it in a sympathy card, or include it in a public eulogy, don’t say it with your out loud voice to someone who’s hurting. 

Why we want to say “everything happens for a reason”

“Everything happens for a reason” seems to be the most popular go-to phrase we set on the table accompanied by flowers or a casserole. 

If you really want to dig into why this is problematic (not only in grief but for spirituality in general), and something better to say instead, haste ye to getjoy.shop and get yourself a copy of Joy Comes in the Mourning.  It’s heavy but short; you can read it in an afternoon. 

In the meantime, here’s the cliff notes version.  Your person (or you, for that matter) may actually believe this everything-happens-for-a-reason concept, whether it's rooted in faith or not.  But you can't force-feed it to them when they're suffering. 

We say everything happens for a reason to quell our own feelings of fear, discomfort, and uncertainty.  Yet truthfully, it doesn’t really help us that much either.  So we may as well just stop saying it.  

Incidentally, we’ve got a lot of fear, pain, uncertainty, and grief swirling around in the world right now disguised as job loss, financial strain, health worries, homeschooling, empty toilet paper shelves, election tension, social media scrolling, and Netflix binge-watching.  I bet if you asked ten of your friends to be honest about their current general anxiety level, they’d all tell you it’s heightened in 2020 simply because of how uncertain the future of anything feels.

Life is uncertain, and scary and beautiful and completely unpredictable.  This uncertainty makes our control-freak human brains twitch.  We get uncomfortable and push the panic button and that’s when we start saying good-hearted but super-dumb things. 

But what if it's true that everything happens for a reason?

Here’s the twist: I am one of those annoying people who still DOES believe everything really does happen for a reason.  I believe true good and true evil are alive in the world.  I believe I was put on this planet at this moment in time for a distinct purpose, that you were too, and that God and the universe are working all things together for good for each of us.  

BUT.

It took me death, a near-divorce, and 11 years of therapy and solid grief work to bring me to the point where I have an evolving peace treaty with “everything happening for a reason.”  This means that some days I cling this belief for comfort, and some days I go back to thinking it’s utter and total bulls***. In order to come to a point of peace, I had to wrestle with everything from personal guilt to eternal spiritual questions, some of which were:

  • Did God cause this tragedy to happen?
  • If the devil caused it, why did God let it happen?
  • Does God even care?
  • Was any of it my fault?
  • Am I being punished?
  • What am I supposed to be learning?
  • What am I supposed to do with all this?
  • Am I going to be broken forever?
  • Does any of this even matter?

And more.  The passing of time doesn’t really make these questions (or their answers) any easier.  It just brings me new upgraded models of the original hamster wheel my mind incessantly spins around on inside.  (If you’re currently wrestling with these questions, let me encourage you that these questions are important to wrestle with.  Seek out a professional to help you stop the manic cycle and make some sense out of how you’re thinking and feeling.  Your physical/mental wellness and your spiritual health will thank you for it.)

A better encouragement than "everything happens for a reason"

Maybe the better way I came to frame “everything happens for a reason” is: there is meaning and purpose in all things.  I want to believe – I do believe - my life matters, my son’s life matters, and your life matters too.  We aren’t arbitrary cosmic space dust.  We’re divinely inspired creatures here to do the work that only we can do.  Not one human is an accident.  We’re all here on purpose.   

But frustratingly, you can’t see purpose from right where you are.  You can only see it when you zoom waaaayyyyyyyy out.  In the immediacy of pain and suffering, there is no purpose to be found.  And if you try to assign purpose to tragedy before you’ve found time and distance from it, you’ll most likely place blame on your own failure, or a vengeful god, or other self-destructive patterns of thought. 

In the fog of grief, I scrambled to immediately assign purpose to my son’s death.  That frenzied chase shaped the way I began to think, work, love, practice faith, and engage in relationships from that point forward.  Grasping for purpose and meaning of the loss of a child sent me (still sends me, when I’m not operating out of wellness) on a desperate goose-chase to find and assign significance and depth to every one of my experiences. 

An actual reason

We were given a unique, clear, and tangible reason for our son’s death: the adoption of our daughter.  I held onto that miracle, that definitive purpose, until its superpower ran out after about a year. 

Not surprisingly, when the feel-good water ran dry, all that remained in the bottom of my dusty riverbed was anger and pain that had quietly festered long enough to rot into infection.  I hurt even more then than I had in the beginning.  And I was even madder because I thought I had avoided all that pain altogether.  Grace (our daughter) or not, there was absolutely no reason a baby should die.  Ever.  

This topic is reserved for my first perfect hot coffee with God.

My point here is this: no amount of “purpose-driven life” can cancel the fact that tragedy happens and it hurts like a mother.  Tragedy can and tragedy does eventually transform into something meaningful, but it takes time, and intentional heart work to get better through the pain instead of bitter.  You can’t just wave the magic wand of “purpose” over pain and suffering and escape the process.  I know.  I tried.  You just make more messy work for yourself in the long run.

Which is why telling someone “everything happens for a reason” in the thick of their suffering is truly unhelpful.  Because:

  • They don’t have the perspective yet to see or understand anything good that could possibly come out of their situation, and,,,
  • It’s rushing them through the healing process.

I clung to the phrase myself after my son died, and when our marriage was falling apart, repeating it over and over every day like if I said it enough, it’d come true.  But I realize now in hindsight I was actually doing #2: rushing my own self through the process, trying to skip the pain.  Grief is a master teacher.  Unyielding.  I’d never wish away what I learned and who I am now because of it.  But again – you can’t tell someone that during their deepest grief, not even yourself.

Quick bonus advice

In addition to everything happens for a reason, DO NOT EVER tell someone “I understand” unless you have experienced the exact loss/pain they are experiencing.  Even then… it’s not the best choice of words.  It minimizes their experience and makes them feel small instead of seen, heard, and supported.

Here are some better, helpful, encouraging phrases to share instead (I've put them on a handy graphic down at the bottom):

  • I love you.
  • I’m so sorry.
  • I’m here with you.
  • I hear what you’re saying.
  • Would you like some company?
  • Can I bring you a (pizza/punching bag/box of plates)?

If you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything at all.  Silence really is okay.  But if you truly can’t stand the silence, just let them know you love them and you care.  If you’re live, in person, and you panic, just breathe and pray: God, give me the right words or none at all to be a blessing to my friend in this moment.

Bad things happen to good people.  It’s heartbreaking and frustrating, especially when those bad things feel senseless. 

You may never know the reason for the tragedy that befell you.  There might not even be a reason.  Maybe not everything happens for a reason… but you happened for a reason.  And you’re still here: a breathing, living soul.  Which means there’s still purpose for you.

Feathers on a breeze

One of my favorite lines from my favorite movies:

I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze.  But I think maybe it’s both.  Maybe both are happening at the same time.” -- Forrest Gump

I think Forrest had it right.  We’ll never understand the big picture until we’re looking at it from the other side – in that cozy overstuffed chair, filled with love and light.  Until then, there are questions we’ll never have answers to, and things we’ll never be able to fully explain or embrace. 

So rather than assigning “reason” to the events that befall us, what if we instead chose to trust and be faithful to the process?  I’m still here.  So are you.  Every breath is a new opportunity to leave a little dent in eternity for good. 

The world is swirling with grief right now, disguised as worry, job loss, financial strain, health concerns, distance learning, political tension, marriage strain, and about 100 other stressful things. 

For your people who are hurting, no matter the reason: call them today just to say hi.  Don’t try to fix them.  You can’t.  Just love them and let them know you’re not going to leave their side.  Do it on purpose. 

HP,

J <3

P.S.

No matter the cause of a person's pain, grief is grief, and loss is loss.  One person's pain isn't more (or less) painful or significant than another's.  If you know someone struggling with pain, grief, or loss, or someone who simply needs the comfort of a loving community, please invite them here.  If you choose to gift them a copy of my book, I'm happy to inscribe it with a personal word of encouragement. 

Say this not that | helpful words for people in pain instead of everything happens for a reason
Nice isn't hard
Jul 27

How to be nice (because nice isn’t hard)

By Jessica Allen | Life

Since when did it become so hard to be nice?

My heart broke a little in the grocery store last week.

I loaded up the baby and went inside because I needed to pick up prescriptions, was missing several items from my last pickup order, and needed to return some wrong-sized light bulbs.

The woman at the desk was frazzled. I could tell my laundry list of requests was the last thing she wanted to handle. And as she made fun of herself for not seeing the light bulbs on my receipt, I tried to ease the tension by simply saying, “I can only imagine how googly-eyed you must be today. Yours isn’t an easy job lately.”

Her shoulders dropped 3 feet, and as she finally looked me in the eye over her mask she replied, “People are just so mean right now.”

She went on to explain, “They just want *everything.* So I just try to help them get it.”

We chatted for a few more minutes before the sky got black and I ran with the stroller through the rain to get back home before Hanna’s first big weather band hit. I think - I hope - I left that sweet lady at the customer service desk a little better than I found her.

Related: 10 Things to Say Instead of Picking a Fight

No excuses

It doesn’t matter how:

  • Tired
  • Frustrated
  • Anxious
  • Hungry
  • Worried
  • Lonely
  • Fearful
  • Late
  • Important
  • Depressed
  • Angry
  • Distracted
  • (any other emotion) you are.

There’s absolutely no reason to be short, rude, or demeaning to someone. Especially if that someone’s literal job is to help us.

People really are trying their best

Research psychology has actually tested and proven that the vast majority of people, the vast majority of the time, are truly doing the best they can. (Even if we can’t fathom how *that* could possibly be “someone’s best.”)

And, here’s another reminder that’s kept me from spouting off more times than I’m willing to admit: People have their reasons, even if we can’t understand what they are.

I feel like this is an especially important nugget to tuck into our pockets as we head back to school. And for those of us still in virus hotspots. Anxiety and emotions are running hot as we watch people thinking and behaving differently than we think is right. News Flash: there is not going to be even ONE decision made by politicians or educational/church/corporate leadership that pleases 100% of the people.

BUT.

1) People are doing the very best they can, even and especially people in positions of influential leadership, and
2) People have their reasons, even when we can’t understand what they are.

Choose to be nice

Contrary to what the media depicts, you can disagree with someone’s perspective and behavior without ripping them to shreds. (Hard sometimes.)

ALSO contrary to what the media depicts, you can actually disapprove of a decision and keep your mouth shut about it, and/or choose not to try to change someone’s mind. (Harder always. And doubly frustrating, because it rarely works.)

You can need something and ask someone kindly for help instead of demanding it like a raging toddler. I have one of those in the house. I know.

Related: Make kindness your greatest strength

A simple formula for nice responses

My general protocol when I feel torqued up and ready to chomp someone is this:

  • Look the person in the eye (so I can remember they’re a human being too)
  • Exhale
  • Say something kind, or
  • Say thank you and walk away.

I can’t expect other people to be nice to me all the time or respect the way I think, feel, and act. But I can hold myself to a basic standard of nice. I can also humble myself and apologize when I inevitably blow it and treat someone like garbage because I couldn’t control my temper. (However, if your apologies outnumber your kind encounters, it’s time to reevaluate the way you do business.)

Related: Bringing Your Best (when all you've got is your worst)

Nice is contagious too. Try it. And if it doesn’t work - because sometimes it doesn’t - shake it off. Being a butthead never makes a bad situation better. (I would tattoo this exact sentence on my 9-year-old son’s body if I thought it would help.)

Just be nice. Nice isn’t hard.

HP,

J

P.S.

I'd love to hear from you.  What are you wanting to hear about during this unusual season?  Feel free to comment here, pop an idea on our Facebook/IG pages, or send me an email.  Just remember... be nice. 😉

When hope feels impossible | text on plain background | dandelion picture
Jul 24

When hope feels impossible

By Jessica Allen | Marriage

When hope feels impossible...

How do you forgive the unforgivable?

How do you trust the untrustable?

How do you love the unlovable?

With acceptance that forgiveness is actually a gift you give yourself.

With acceptance that trust can only be earned with time and opportunity.

With acceptance that love looks different in every season... and that at times, you have been unlovable too.  

Acceptance

Acceptance is the part of the grieving process I hate the most because I actually think it's the hardest step to wrangle. I don't want to accept the brokenness in my life, in my faith, in my marriage, in my parenting, in my relationships, in my career. Because accepting unacceptable things feels like a cruel insult to injury. And staring at all that brokenness, hope feels impossible.  

How do I forgive someone who inflicted an unforgivable wound? How do I trust someone who has earned nothing but my distrust? How do I love someone who has hurt me so profoundly?

All three impossible feats truly are divinely possible, so hold onto hope. There is no human power that can truly forgive, trust, and love enough to repair irrevocable damage, so choose to be willing to rely on God's power, if only for this one moment.  (Before you get mad about that - what do you have to lose?)

So, sure, "God's got this," but what do I do in the meantime?!

Our human work begins here. All three impossible feats of forgiveness, trust, and love come with one same caveat: boundaries are key.

Boundaries

Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. And forgiveness also does not guarantee trust.

Trust is earned back one tiny trustworthy experience at a time. Yet the relationship may never look the same as “before.”

Love looks different in every season. You can love someone yet require them to earn back your trust. You can love someone yet request their patterns to change. You can love someone at arm's length - or from across a canyon - until they have found a path back to your embrace through reflection, hard personal work, and proven changed behavior.  

Because loving a person requires you to first love yourself. And loving yourself means understanding the respect and care you need (deserve) from the person who loves you too.  

But how do we get from fairy tale love… to tolerance… to disdain… to disgust? How does love so devastatingly erode?

Related: Choose love

Love in the trenches

Love - real, true love - is locking eyes in the trenches and choosing to make it through alive. Sometimes you fight together. Sometimes you fight alone. Sometimes someone needs to rest, or be carried, or tend to their wounds. Sometimes your radios will break and you will need a translator. A code breaker. Sometimes a spy throws you off course. Sometimes the enemy destroys any progress you’ve made. 

Sometimes you’ll both just want to lay down and quit.

There’s light at the end.  I promise.

So when you’re ready - stand up and trudge forward anyway. 

That’s doing the impossible. 

When hope feels impossible

Here’s a little something from our socials yesterday.  Let hope find you today.

Hope is sometimes a shiny pearl
Hope is sometimes a tiny ray of light
Hope is sometimes a resting place until your strength comes back
But mostly
For me
Hope is bloody knees and tear-stained cheeks
Facing forward into the wind.

However you’re striving to forgive, trust, love, or hope today, stand firm knowing you’re loved and held as a precious image bearer of the One who created you.  Keep going.  

HP,

J ❤️

Jack and Jessica in a cozy restaurant | when hope feels impossible


We snapped this pic during one of the lowest seasons of my personal and professional life - a season in the trenches where love looked like Jack doing all the carrying. I didn't deserve a second of his grace. He gave it anyway. I'm forever grateful.

self care isn't selfish
Jul 21

Self care isn’t selfish

By Jessica Allen | Life , Marriage

Giving feels hard right now. We’re all maxed out.  Stressed out.  Worried out.  Zoomed out.  News-ed out.  Social media-d out.  Tired out.  Worn out. 

So the idea of giving anything else “out” seems unreasonable. 

Yet in a twist of irony, the most gracious gift we can give out to the people we love is our own self care.

When was the last time you asked yourself, “what do I need today?”

A way to fail at self care

We tend to put ourselves last on the list.  Here’s how it usually looks in my own life:

24/7: caring/doing for other people

0/7: being mindful of my own personal needs

One random day for no reason: completely melting down because I feel overextended and taken for granted as a wife, mom, and friend

I stuff my own feelings and am a sucker subscriber to the “suck it up buttercup” channel, which serves me crappy messages all day long like:

  • You’re strong, and a strong person wouldn’t feel tired/overwhelmed/emotional about this
  • There’s nobody else who can do this thing right
  • You have to do this thing right now or the world will fall apart
  • You can sleep when you’re dead (I LOATHE THIS STATEMENT)
  • Self-care is for wimps and losers who have nothing else better to do with their time (what will all the people think if I sit down, rest, and read a book for pleasure?!  Who has time to eat these bon bons all day?!)

These are all really distorted messages that feed my insecurities and boost my ego (I am irreplaceable and “so busy and important” that I don’t have time to stop). 

When I don’t care for myself, when I run out of gas, my system starts fueling itself with whatever bottom-of-the-barrel reserves it can find, which is, 100% of the time, fear and insecurity

I can travel a good distance on fear-based motivation.  News flash: we all can, and we all do, much of the time.  But when that lousy fuel runs out, we combust. 

A better recipe for self care

Here’s a better structure for self care that works:

23/7: caring/doing for my people, with self-respect and good boundaries in place

1/7: paying attention to what I need, whether it’s a good walk, vitamin D, a sincere talk with a good friend, or a hot bath and a good book

Never and I mean not ever: exploding on the people I love most because I ran myself into the ground in the name of “selfless service to others”

The greater the demands on your energy, the higher priority self-care should take

This is a season where everyone needs so much.  My children need so much.  As spouses, we need each other so much.  We need a safe and truthful sounding board.  We need hope in all good things to come.  We need assurances of health and safety for our communities.  We need strong, confident, humble, resourceful leaders who can say, “I don’t have all the answers but we’re in this together.” 

Our emotional reserves are just about tapped out by the news and politics surrounding every decision we make. 

If we’re not careful, we set ourselves running on that last-resort reserve of fear-based fuel.  But with a bit of intentional self care, we could be fueling our minds and hearts with something much more reliable and healthy instead: faith, hope, love, and the grounding truth of our own clearly articulated beliefs. 

Real benefits of self care

When I pause to care for myself, the swirling cesspool of anxiety stops sucking me in.  When I talk with a trustworthy friend about things that matter, my perspective comes back.  

When I believe truths about myself like I am fearfully and wonderfully made… I have been given unique gifts to fulfill a unique purpose… I am the perfect, divinely-selected wife for my husband and mother for my children… I don’t have all the answers and that’s okay… I don’t have to be all things for all people… when I believe those truths about myself, I can make decisions with confidence and without fear.  When I sort through my thoughts and emotions during an hour of yoga or a walk with the dog, I can answer other people’s questions without biting their faces off.  When I leave my people to their own capable devices to singe my skin off in a hot bath and wander away in a book I’m enjoying, I can then respond to the needs of my family without feeling neglected or overwhelmed.

When I can dig out from under the weight of my own messy thoughts, I am better for everyone else, because I first took the time to get better for me.

Self care isn’t selfish 

It’s the furthest thing from selfish, actually.

Taking even the simplest, smallest time for personal self care is the greatest gift you can give to your people because it allows you to bring your very best self to the table.

Your patient self.

Your kind self.

Your healthy self.

Your no-strings-attached self.

Your nurturing self.

Your generous self.

Love well

I wrote a little something on my social channels yesterday about weapons and swords.  I woke up today still thinking about it, and ultimately, I don’t think we can get to this place until we intentionally engage in intentional self-care.  

Love well

Put away your shields of anger… resentment… irritation… skepticism.

Lay down your swords of blame… bitterness… assumption… the score card.

Be brave enough to peek over the wall at the person you want to love. Or, with a little more courage, maybe you’ll choose to dismantle that wall brick by brick.

Love cannot be fully given or received when it’s weighted down by fear. The more fear we feel, the more weapons and shields we gather up. And so becomes a vicious cycle which is hard to break: the harder a person is to love, the more weapons and shields we hide behind, which makes it harder to love them...

This is the state of our nation. So many weapons. So many shields. Hearts so far apart we can't even see the faces of who they belong to anymore.

I can’t think of anything I want more than to love well and be loved well in return. Freely, just as I am, without ever feeling the need to brandish a weapon or hide for protection.

If you’re willing to lay down whatever sword and shield you’re carrying, I promise you’ll experience more of the kind of love we were all created for. The kind of love lavished on us by the One who created us, and the kind of love we’re called to lavish upon one another too.

Love well today, and always. Let it set you free.

Make time for self care (or it'll never happen)

Set aside the time for the self care you really need.  Maybe it’s an hour to yourself.  Maybe it’s finally making the phone call to apologize, or ask the hard question, or book the appointment, or say the hard thing. 

Contrary to world view or popular belief, self-care isn’t selfish or frivolous.  Arguably, investing in the most present, nourished, healthy version of yourself is the best gift you can give to the world.   Because when we love ourselves well, we can love our people in the ways they crave to be loved too.

And other than the return of Jesus, there’s nothing the world needs more now than real, true, through-the-tough-stuff love.   

HP,

J

pulling weeds | simple tools for personal growth
Jul 14

Pulling weeds

By Jessica Allen | Life

After months of intense personal work, I recently made some big sharp-right-turn life decisions.  And last Sunday was the first morning since I can remember that I’ve woken up feeling like I had enough mental space available to take a walk and pull weeds in my front yard.   

I realize this is both a good and bad thing.  Good that my mind is starting to relax enough to allow new activities into my day.  Bad that I ever got so maxed out that routine yard work or simply walking around our neighborhood with my son felt overwhelming. 

Letting down

I’m structure and routine oriented, so after feeling peace with the initial decision to resign my two long-standing leadership positions, I actually panicked a little.  Here’s how it went:

  • 6 months leading up to the big decisions: stress, anxiety, worry, fear, debate, restlessness, sadness, grief (I did a ton of intentional emotional/mental work on the front side of the decision to ensure I would feel peace and confidence on the back side)
  • Day-of the phone calls: total peace and gratitude.
  • 2-3 days after: confidence, relief
  • 4 days-2 weeks after: jittery, restlessness, fatigue
  • 2 weeks after: total mental exhale 
  • 4 weeks after: still sweeping some unexpected emotional dust bunnies out of the deep corners.

I didn't expect that last one, but I know I should have.  Total life changes don't come without some necessary personal work - before, during, and after the transitions.

My body actually felt heavy last Sunday, that total exhale day, in a really rewarding, grounded way.  Like I could feel all my fingers and toes, and was acutely aware of my breathing and all my senses.  (Everything I love about yoga, btw.)

Pulling weeds

My son invited me on his daily morning dog walk, and of course I said yes and threw on my shoes.  As we rounded back into our driveway, I saw our front yard beds riddled with weeds, as they had been for weeks.  I was kind of surprised we didn’t get a township letter about it, actually.  I pull a big weed out every now and then when the kids are playing outside but I’ve honestly been so mentally wiped that the thought of blocking out a half-hour to “tidy up” the yard felt exhausting. 

Brother and I made it a game and started making little weed piles on the sidewalk, just like I used to with my dad when we were little.  Brother dislodged dried newspaper pulp from the driveway – the paper had gotten doused in a storm and nobody picked it up before it got squished; another task that felt too hard.  Brother got bored, and hot, and before long it was just me and my podcasts.  (I am listening to a podcast every minute someone doesn’t actively need me for something.  I love everything from trail-blazing entrepreneurialism to politics to true crime to personal development to great fiction and everything in between.)

Dead weight

In the yard, a thorn and berry vine I absolutely cannot kill had wound itself yet again through the big zebra grasses near the street, and I yanked and pulled and cut my fingers even through gloves.  As I got into the zebra grass, I realized there was weeks… maybe even months or years… of dead grass underneath them.  Between freezes and floods and Texas summer and Saharan dust and all the other layers of fresh hell 2020 has dealt us, all our plants here have taken a beating, but these never seem worse for the wear.  They look fresh and green and full of life.  

But I pulled… and pulled… and pulled hidden dead weight out of those grasses for more than an hour.  I even found 2 long-lost yellow Easter eggs, full of sticky, unrecognizable, melted candy.  I collected an entire garbage bin worth of weeds and decay. 

When I was done, I hadn’t even noticed that my podcast had long-since finished and my husband had silently brought out and turned on a fan out for me.  I was dripping in sweat and completely drained. 

Dead weight out of the grass.  Dead weight out of my mind and heart too. 

Personal work requires clearing dead weight

What dead weight is hiding in the corners of your mind and heart?  What thoughts of anxiety, restlessness, worry, fear, grief, or shame are robbing you of precious energy and mental/emotional freedom?  And what weeds could be choking new growth, creativity, vibrance, or your ability to view your life from a fresh perspective? 

My dead weight taking up space is “the past” and “how I think I need to be/do for other people.”  My weeds choking new growth are the limiting beliefs of “what if my work never really makes a difference” and “someone else is better suited for that [role/achievement/success/impact] than I am.”  Another really nasty weed is a piece of dysfunctional hard-wiring that tells me “you need to be doing something to be valuable and loved.”  I can feel a little lost in stillness; jumpy to start the next project or focus my attention on filling someone else’s needs.

Personal work is optional

Whether pruning in the yard or digging into personal work within yourself, it’s all optional.  I guess I could have left the dead grass alone.  It wasn’t even visible unless you intentionally peered inside and underneath the plants, which were lush and thriving.  But now that they’re free to grow without the decay choking them at the roots, I bet they’ll grow even bigger.  I guess I don’t have to sweep these weeds out of my mind and heart, either… but I believe that clutter-free clarity is about to make way for the next season in my life I can’t quite yet see on the horizon. 

Some weeds don’t pull so easily.  The deeper the roots, or the sharper the thorn, the harder the work required… sometimes even a call for help from an extra set of hands.  My yard weed needed sharp clippers and poison.  My heart weeds need a trusted friend or counselor.  And Jesus, who cultivates every bit of any good growth I’ve ever had.  No matter the weed, you can’t just pluck leaves off here and there and expect it to disappear.  You have to get it by the roots or it will come back.  Usually thicker, pricklier, and harder to kill.

So by now, a month into this new-to-me lifestyle, I’m starting to notice some little pesky weeds whose roots I missed on the first pass, trying to wiggle their way back up. 

Useful tools for personal work

If you really want some mind-changing tools, check out literally anything Brene Brown has ever written.  Her concept of “the rumble” and her checklist for rumble language changed the way I sort through big feelings and broken ideas.  This tool is of course tremendous to use in conversations with other people of but it’s made the biggest impact on my life during those times I use it within myself.

Here’s my cheat sheet for weeding out the dead weight of my own anxious thoughts, and I am sure every single one of these questions is credited to someone way smarter than me.  Nothing I have ever done is an original thought; which is absolutely okay, because a great student is a great listener, and a great teacher is an expert thief.

Self Awareness 101 checklist

Download/print this list here.

  • What am I feeling and thinking right now?
  • Why am I actually upset about it?
  • What hold does this upsetting thought or feeling have on me?
  • Who do I love in my life that is being hurt by it?
  • How might this continue to hurt me if I choose to hold onto it?
  • What could happen if I were brave enough to let it go?
  • What other thought, feeling, or opportunity could take its place?
  • How can I honor this thought and then truly release it?

Let it burn go

Sometimes letting go of the super hard stuff feels a little more final with a physical act.

I’m going to tell you a secret: I have a little trick for this.  So does my husband.  

Jack has literally written things on paper and buried them in intentional places. 

I prefer a gentle burn.  (You know I love a good plate-breaking, too.)

There’s something really therapeutic about sending my hard-to-release thoughts and feelings into the wind, up to the sky.  There’s more than just charcoal in the bottom of our Big Green Egg. 

You might be able to just let things go without having to sage the place. That’s okay too (will you tell me what's that like?!).  Or you might need a whole lot of extra help with a counselor (it’s worth it – skip the take-out or an impulse online purchase to save the money and go).

However you choose to release what’s got its hold on you, you’ll be free to move forward into what you’re really meant for.  And the more space you’ll have in mind, body, and soul to create the special magic that only you can.

That choking weed you’re scared to pull is blocking something infinitely more beautiful from blooming within you.

Here’s to whatever you uproot and release in the process of personal work.  It takes guts, time, and maintenance… but it’s undeniably worth it.

HP,
J <3

kindness | make kindness your greatest strength | confetti
Jul 07

Make kindness your greatest strength

By Jessica Allen | Life , Marriage

I have been trying my whole adult life to make sure other people “don't mistake my kindness for weakness."

It's exhausting. I'm exhausted.   

I understand the point of this phrase, and that the people in my life who tried to teach it to me offered it up with the purest of intentions. I know what this phrase means because I have allowed myself to be manipulated, misunderstood, taken advantage of, slandered, and personally and professionally attacked by people who have, ultimately, mistaken my kindness for weakness.

Kindness vs. Badass

I was 21 the first time I heard this kindness-as-weakness advice.  And ever since, I have been trying to "fix" this about myself by growing thicker skin, throwing up walls to protect myself, and practicing exuding confidence in every arena. I ask myself almost every day, "what would my ‘badass’ friends and mentors do in this situation?"  Every time I answer that question and act accordingly, I weave another thread into my own badass superhero cape.  It’s a legitimate tool in my arsenal – something I can pull off the shelf when I need it.  

My badass superhero cape looks… badass.  It’s bright and flashy and grabs attention.  It’s made of perfectly selected words and oozes self-assuredness.  But it’s itchy, and uncomfortable, and has a chip on both shoulders, and no matter how I style it, it just doesn’t fit right.  Because it’s not who I really am.  Wearing it gives me a false sense of confidence… which is really just fear, because what if all these people figure out I’m not a badass at all? 

Wrong lesson

I sold my baby-grownup-self on a warped concept of strength and leadership.  The world - or maybe just me? - values a certain kind of leader: charismatic, engaging, full of life and spark.  I can certainly adjust the dials on my personality and crank up these channels when I need to.  But all the energy that effort requires depletes me.  Because the most authentic version of me is quiet and introspective.  I am confident, but it doesn’t come from flash or volume; my confidence comes from knowing who I really am on the inside and living that way on the outside too.  (Everyone and anyone can gain true confidence from this kind of self-awareness and self-acceptance.)

Kindness and the professional arena

As a fresh college graduate, I dove headfirst into professional arenas requiring the highest levels of charisma and ambition. And therefore, all of a sudden, I hit a giant disconnect between my giftings and my career choices.  The softer, gentler (truest) nature of my personality became a liability in my line of work.  And that constant state of never feeling quite suited for the job left me open to the most painful shadow side of the comparison game – wondering if my brand of leadership could ever hold a candle to those leaders with more splashy and vibrant, or aggressive and commanding styles.  My confidence sank.  I started over-evaluating my conversations and responses.  And that hyper-vigilance shaped the way I navigated every professional and relational endeavor for the next 15 years.

But here's the thing: after all that time trying to conform myself to what I perceived as an ideal professional image, I've come to the stark realization that nothing about my hard-wiring needs fixing.  This isn’t a justification or an argument for the flawed parts of my personality; I don’t get a free pass to treat people poorly or behave inappropriately “because that’s just how I am.”  And on the flip side, I don’t get to blame other people for treating me poorly because I didn’t have the courage to speak up. 

We’re all called to grow and become more glorious versions of ourselves – not better versions of someone else.  I am exactly who I am.  Yet how often did I allow my environment to tell me I would have been much happier/better/more successful as somebody else?  We live in a gilded social media world that praises loud, fast, and snarky, and hails provocative content as king.  It’s the most sinister fertile soil for weeds of insecurity and alter-ego. 

Not funny anymore

The old joke around our house was that my husband married me because I’m nice.

It used to be funny.  Until our whole marriage fell apart and I got completely sick and tired of being nice.  In the real world, in a real damaging way, the person I trusted most mistook my kindness for weakness.  It was my last straw.  My ill-advised solution was to throw on my badass cape and make some really arrogant, desperate, bad decisions that cost me everything I cared about.   

The irony isn’t lost on me that in order to put it all back together, I had to draw deep from the well of kindness.  The thing I’m actually good at.

I had gotten so good at projecting what I thought was the opposite of kindness – badassery – that I missed every opportunity to maximize my own authentic potential.  I settled for a hollow image of superiority rather than a deep-rooted true confidence in who I really am. 

Who I am – and who you really are – is remarkable.

The kindness chip in my personality is more than "nice." It's gentleness for a maxed-out, spiraling child. It's patience for a stressed or hurting partner. It's forgiveness for words said in the heat of the moment.  It’s humility to share the spotlight with others and willingness to give more of yourself than you expect to receive in return.  It’s masterful ability to navigate hard conversations and comfort fragile feelings.  It's choosing to believe the best about people and trusting them with the most tender pieces of yourself.  

It takes a lot of guts to tap into true kindness, gentleness, patience, and humility because it makes you vulnerable to wounds.  It’s easy to get eaten up by people less mindful of softer personalities.  And when that happens (because it will), fight the instinct to throw on your badass cape.  Instead, go back to the drawing board on how you can be a better advocate for yourself.  Refine your communication.  Reset and clarify some boundaries.  Practice saying no.  Be specific about what is and is not okay.  You can be kind and not be a doormat.  This is teaching people how to treat you. 

Unlearning image and learning authenticity

I’m still learning how to use kindness as my superpower.  It started with lots of unlearning, actually.  Sometimes I trusted the wrong people and failed to set healthy boundaries.  I allowed myself to be taken advantage of.  I didn’t speak up when I felt disrespected.  I cared too much about what other people thought.  I sacrificed my own needs to dangerous ends.  

And then sometimes I see someone’s aggression coming and I overcorrect.  I cut people with words.  I throw up too-thick-too-tall boundary walls and live scared behind them.  I get self-righteous and critical.  I go back to that old caped-up version of myself.  I still mess this up.  Probably will until the end of time.   

Yet I’m practicing better every day.  Kindness doesn’t mean submissiveness.  Gentleness doesn’t mean spinelessness.  Patience doesn’t mean laziness.  Now I understand that kindness means speaking directly, honestly, timely, and with no room for confusion.  Gentleness means listening with compassion and honoring what’s lovely in the other person.  Patience means carefully waiting and choosing not to act on impulse. 

These are qualities I’d admire in any leader.  No matter how colorful or how calm their style. 

What’s your superpower?

If you’re that tender person too, who feels itchy and uncomfortable when you put on your badass cape, or any other disguise that makes you feel more like someone else you think is “better,” please throw that disguise away.  It doesn’t look good on you, just like mine doesn’t look good on me… because it doesn’t really fit. 

Whatever that softer side of you is, that’s your real superpower.  It's just as valuable as any other bold characteristic in our more outspoken friends.  Your superpower might be kindness, like mine.  Or it might be prudence, or generosity, or listening, or perspective.  The big loud world doesn’t like to hold much space for these quiet strengths.  But they’re the healing medicine people need for their tired, hurting hearts.    

How much more fulfilling would our relationships, our work, our dreams and goals be, if we chose to intentionally cultivate those softer superpowers as our greatest strengths? 

What’s yours?

HP,

J

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