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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.

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

choose love | happy anniversary | marriage
Jun 25

Choose love

By Jessica Allen | Marriage

We had absolutely no idea what we were doing.  Our ceremony was so short we actually panicked at the end – we thought surely they forgot some stuff.  But how could you make a couple of naïve and starry-eyed babies on the altar understand that marriage is going to take every bit of your strength and humility and forgiveness and grace… that sometimes God and grit are the only things that’ll hold it together… and that it’ll be the hardest and best thing you’ll ever choose? 

15 years and so much life later, we still have pretty much no idea what we’re doing, but we’ll keep fighting for every beautiful part of this love.  Stay grateful for the hard stuff.  And even more grateful for the good.  

And commit to the long-haul mindset, because a lot of stuff's gone down in 15 years, and we know it's only the tip of the iceberg.    

15 marriage adventures in 15 years:

  1. Young working newlyweds
  2. Infertility
  3. Entrepreneurship
  4. Infant loss
  5. Adoption
  6. Bed rest
  7. 2 under 2
  8. Completely self-employed
  9. 2 moves
  10. Financial stress
  11. Infidelity
  12. Counseling
  13. Reconciliation
  14. New baby
  15. Career changes

It would take me a whole 15 years to tell you the longer version, but you can find it here.

As I looked forward to our anniversary this year, originally to be spent baking in the sun on a deserted beach somewhere (thanks Covid), as usual my mind went right past our wedding day, which was so fun, and straight to all the life we've lived together since.   We’re in the best (marriage) shape we’ve ever been, but it didn’t come without a boatload of heartache and wreckage.  We're living proof of God's promise that we'll be "pressed down but not destroyed."  

We held on for dear life, grasping at whatever straws we could get our hands on to keep our marriage and our little family together. 

15 things that held us together when nothing else would

  1. Belief that God put us together for a reason
  2. Belief that the reason God put us together wasn’t over yet
  3. Counseling (seriously – just go.)
  4. Willingness to have the hard conversations
  5. The life we wanted for our children
  6. Our beautiful backyard
  7. Weekly date nights (even when we glared at each other and sat in silence)
  8. Daily coffee club
  9. Sacrificial love
  10. Refusal to quit
  11. Staying under the same roof (it was hard)
  12. Staying in the same bed (that was even harder)
  13. Tightening our circle
  14. Speaking only kind words about each other to other people (we learned this the hard way)
  15. Trashing old, bad patterns and committing to better, healthy ones 

We have lots of scar tissue.  But our life heals and thrives despite it.  Not one year of our marriage has been like the next, and neither one of us imagined the life we’re still building now.  Every choice we’ve made, good, bad, and ugly, has brought us here.  And there’s nothing I’d trade away.  Every horrible conversation was/is worth it.  So was every tear we cried.  Every prayer.  Every apology.  Every reluctant forgiveness.  Every scared offering of trust.  Every embarrassing admission and vulnerable truth-telling.  

Choose love

We’re only one choice away from pointing our lives, our marriages, our parenting, our faith, our health, our wealth, and our futures in a different direction. What a relief it is to know that the mistakes we make (while some of them are much messier to recover from) can be repaired by making intentional choices in the going-forward. 

If your marriage needs that kind of “redirection” (I’m laughing because that’s the most G-rated way to say “If your marriage is staring over the cliff of complete destruction”), or you feel defeated, be encouraged that you still have the power of choice. 

Choose to say the kind word, or nothing at all.  Choose to affirm something in your spouse even when they’re breaking your heart. (This is not being a doormat.  This is intentionally deciding to be kind.)  Choose to give love instead of deliberately withhold it.  Choose to stay in the conversation instead of walking away.  Choose to answer politely instead of throwing a grenade.  Choose your body language.  Choose your tone.  Choose your facial expression.  Choose how you spend your time.  Choose how you speak about your spouse to others.  Choose a better inner monologue.  Choose to believe things can and will change for the better… one small choice at a time. 

Choosing love does work in the real world

In case all this sounds like a braggadocious fairy tale of utopian marital bliss, here’s how it went down this morning:  All three children were awake and in our bed before 7AM because of a lightning storm, we can’t get rid of horseflies in the kitchen, and I found a weeks-old moldy bottle while I was cleaning up from the dog scattering the inner workings of a beanie baby all over the living room rug.  Oh, and I've been eating so much salt my rings won't come off and so much sugar my pants don't fit.  We live in the real world, people. 

There’s so much magic in it, though.  You just have to decide you want to see it.

HP,

J

P.S.

Local friends, if you need a little support right now, head to True North Counseling.  You can find them on Facebook at True North, The Woodlands.  This is not an ad – this is how strongly I feel about good counseling.  True North is offering a steal of a deal for new clients, whether you need marriage support, personal support, or just a listening ear to help sort through the many emotions the ‘rona is dredging up.  If finances have been standing in your way of seeking help for your wellness, let this be the day you move forward.     

shuffle the deck | making room for what inspires you | evaluating priorities
Jun 21

Shuffle the deck (and get your priorities in order)

By Jessica Allen | Life

I filled out an online questionnaire last week that included the question: To what extent has Covid-19 affected your life? (Mildly, Moderately, Significantly)

My ink-blot reaction was "Mildly."  We're safe, we're healthy, and wearing a mask is the least we can do.  We both work from home and our children do not require special educational services.  Anything we need we can order online or do without, we're good cooks, and we know how to keep our house clean(ish).  All that hard marriage work we've done over the last several years has brought us closer together instead of ripping each other apart in such close quarters.  So other than a minor initial panic over not being able to find diapers anywhere, and thoroughly missing our regular date night, Covid-19 has not altered our life in a way I would consider "significant."

Except... it totally has.

I stared at that questionnaire on my laptop screen with a growing lump in my throat.

Because I slowly realized that this season of retreat has brought perhaps the most significant change to my priorities in quite some time.

Priorities

I suspect you, like me, spent some time in quarantine evaluating your life. What am I doing? Why am I doing it? Do I love it? Is it serving me and my family? Is it serving the right people and purpose? What's the ROI (return on investment) of my time and energy? If I say no to this thing, or that thing, what could I say yes to? What do I want to return to normal? What do I hope never becomes "normal" again?

If Covid-19 hasn't caused you to re-examine your priorities, I hope it’s because they’re so meticulously in order that there's no reason to reflect.  Sometimes they absolutely are and that's called a "sweet spot!"  Yay you!

But if you, like me, find yourself with a strange hand of cards prompting you to shuffle the deck, remove the Jokers, and strategically plan your next play, I tip my cap to you. It takes guts to change the game.  Especially when the other players at the table don’t quite understand.

All this is to say, I've drastically shifted my professional priorities. And the short version is: you'll be seeing me a lot more here in the Heartfully Present world. Look for a website redesign coming late summer, and more content to help us all move forward and toward a more present, ordered, and peace-filled life. I love writing on grief and marriage.  I don't think I'll ever run out of things to say.  But I can’t help but wonder if this total shake-up is making room for something new too.  

What inspires you

I saved a little notecard a few weeks back and it reads: “I will let go of what is no longer serving me and make room for what inspires me.”  It struck me when I found it, because when I thought about it, I couldn’t even come up with what inspires me. 

That’s not good. 

My life, my mind, my heart, and my priorities had all gotten so cluttered and rigid that I couldn’t even make a list of what lights me up from the inside.  I chewed on that for a good while.  And I finally realized that this is one of those predictable moments in my life where God is patiently waiting for me to release my death grip on the reins of control (or my illusion of control).  I don’t get to see the next twist on the path until I decide I’m tired of trying to figure it out myself. 

So I let go. 

And now I will wait.  I’m resisting the urge to book up my time, my schedule, or my mind with “fillers” that will only clutter it all up again.  The goal here is peace… stillness… clarity… trust… and willingness to do things differently.  Just because it worked for the first part of my life doesn’t mean there’s something else in store for the next.  And it's okay to change the activities that line up with your priorities.  I'm finding my priorities stay fairly consistent, but as my life shifts, I have to carefully adjust my commitments to stay in alignment with what brings me peace.       

Significance

So back to that questionnaire…

I unchecked “mildly” and clicked “significantly.”  Without the opportunity to elaborate any further at all on the survey, yes: Covid-19 has significantly affected my life.  I never would have chosen this interruption of routine.  But sometimes we need an interruption to reconsider what we’re so focused on in the first place.  

What are you so focused on?  Is it inspiring you?  Or at least moving you in the direction of something that could?  If you are headed in the right direction, what do you need to keep or shelve in order to stay on track?  And how are things – how are you - going to be different and better in the going-forward?

I’d love to know what’s bubbled up for you during this season of interruption.  Did your priorities shift, or become more clear?  Do you find yourself wanting to adjust your commitments or activities in any way? 

May our Covid-19 lives be “significantly affected” for the better.

HP,

J

A final thought

Though we’ve been fortunate and healthy in our home, as I hope you have been too, I acknowledge Covid-19 is real and it’s still a large and looming problem.  Keep staying home, and wear a mask if you have to go out.  These are the most minor of “inconveniences” and you can literally save someone’s life by putting forth just the tiniest effort and care.  While you’re at home, call or send a note to someone you know needs a pick-me-up.  Loneliness is just as real and just as significant a threat as Covid-19.  We don’t get through this life without each other.

PS: I wrote a book on grief, and while it centers on child loss, it will help any person navigate through the 5 stages of grief of any kind. This season has been challenging in many ways and riddled with loss. You can find a copy of Joy Comes in the Mourning for yourself or a friend here.

growth is a choice | personal growth | lobster graphic
Jun 10

Growth is a choice

By Jessica Allen | Life

You can’t change the world until you change yourself. And change through personal growth is the most necessary, challenging, time-intensive, intentional, and fulfilling work there is. (Not surprisingly, all the elbow-grease required is why so many people are afraid to dig into this kind of personal work.  It’s like going to the gym – it doesn’t work if you blitz hard on 1 day and then sit on the couch for the following 364.)

Read, listen, learn, ask questions, step forward, make mistakes, apologize, get up, and try again – with double the determination. Once you accept the truth that you are going to blow it (over and over), it makes the idea of failing forward a little less paralyzing and even… a little exciting.  Because when you mess up, you learn, and the more you learn, the stronger and better you get.  

2 beautiful benefits of personal growth

Wanna know a beautiful thing about growth? You can literally be a better version of yourself every single passing moment. What you thought, said, or did even five minutes ago has no hold on you when you’re constantly evolving into the person you’re meant to be.

Wanna know the MOST beautiful thing about growth? It doesn’t live in a vacuum. When you know better, you’ll do better, and you’ll spill out what you’ve learned onto and into the people and spaces around you. When you change yourself, it will also change your family, your work, your mission, your vision, and your future… and those things are all attached to other people too.

I love my people enough to spend the time learning from wise voices in order to soften my own edges and sharpen my own iron. I believe so much in how interconnected we are that I’ll keep challenging my own comfortable thoughts and behaviors, because I want to be useful to God and his work in the world.  I want to be rock-solid in my convictions and flexible in my methods because any good change and influence has to come from awareness and LOVE.

Growth requires a rumble

If there is anything in your heart holding you back from love, it needs examination. It’s worth the wrestle.  We’re not supposed to be the same from age 18 until age 100.  Aging is guaranteed – but growth and change are a choice.  Do you think differently about something today than you did a year ago?  GOOD.  It means you’re learning.  Do you think differently about big ideas than your family of origin, your nuclear family, or your extended family?  GREAT.  It means you’re uniquely positioned to keep tricky conversations going and model grace and courage in the process. 

Or, do you have no idea what you actually think/believe in the first place?  EVEN BETTER.  This means you have a new-as-a-born-baby opportunity to open your mind, start at ground zero, and shape your own ideas.  Pull in trusted voices; they are the ones writing, speaking, leading, teaching, and likely not sharing inflammatory content or ripping other people apart on social media.  Journal.  Ask hard questions of yourself.  Press on your beliefs, especially the ones you’ve never really examined recently (or ever, in your adult life). 

The longer you’ve held onto an idea, the harder it can feel to let it go if it’s time to do so. 

Lobsters (yes, lobsters)

Here’s a little nature story, because we really are all interconnected:

Did you know lobsters have to shed their shells as they grow?  They get uncomfortable in their too-small shell, crawl under a rock, molt out of the shell, absorb water and expand their bodies, and produce a new shell.  Lobsters do this about 25 times until fully grown. Constant growing, shedding, recreating.

This is how humans grow, too.  We’re nudged to the point of discomfort by events, ideas, people, or the holy spirit. 

But what happens to us next, unlike lobsters, is optional.

We can write the discomfort off as inconvenience or irritation, and continue as if nothing happened. 

OR

We can choose to pause, step back, learn and process, and then… we grow.  

So the discomfort you feel in your own skin goes far beyond inconvenience or irritation.  It’s a literal invitation to cast off an old way of thinking and expand into a more evolved version of yourself. 

Also, once you shed the old shell, there’s no way you can squeeze back in.   You can’t unlearn what you know now, and you can’t unlive what you just experienced. 

This showing up for your own life.

Showing up for growth isn’t easy, but it’s simple

Showing up for my own life is more simple than I want to believe.  I don’t have to have all the answers, or do any of it right the first time.  I literally just have to show up and be willing to try.

And when I show up for my own life, with my mind and heart open, and a spirit of willingness, I get to trust that every step I take will bring me to a place where I can see the next step after that.  I get to believe that each particular piece of the process is teaching me everything I need to learn before I get to go further. 

Or, you can stay in the same shell your entire life, if you choose.  Nobody is going to make you change.  (Case in point: women have been trying to change men from the dawn of civilization and it does not work.)

Growth is hard.  But it’s way more exciting, more promising, more rewarding, and more full of potential than staying comfortable could ever be. 

Show up for your own life.  Be willing.  That’s all it takes.   

HP,

J

You can’t change the world until you change yourself. And change through personal growth is the most necessary, challenging, time-intensive, intentional, and fulfilling work there is. (Not surprisingly, all the elbow-grease required is why so many people are afraid to dig into this kind of personal work.  It’s like going to the gym – it doesn’t work if you blitz hard on 1 day and then sit on the couch for the following 364.)

Read, listen, learn, ask questions, step forward, make mistakes, apologize, get up, and try again – with double the determination. Once you accept the truth that you are going to blow it (over and over), it makes the idea of failing forward a little less paralyzing and even… a little exciting.  Because when you mess up, you learn, and the more you learn, the stronger and better you get.  

Wanna know a beautiful thing about growth? You can literally be a better version of yourself every single passing moment. What you thought, said, or did even five minutes ago has no hold on you when you’re constantly evolving into the person you’re meant to be.

Wanna know the MOST beautiful thing about growth? It doesn’t live in a vacuum. When you know better, you’ll do better, and you’ll spill out what you’ve learned onto and into the people and spaces around you. When you change yourself, it will also change your family, your work, your mission, your vision, and your future… and those things are all attached to other people too.

I love my people enough to spend the time learning from wise voices in order to soften my own edges and sharpen my own iron. I believe so much in how interconnected we are that I’ll keep challenging my own comfortable thoughts and behaviors, because I want to be useful to God and his work in the world.  I want to be rock-solid in my convictions and flexible in my methods because any good change and influence has to come from awareness and LOVE.

If there is anything in your heart holding you back from love, it needs examination. It’s worth the wrestle.  We’re not supposed to be the same from age 18 until age 100.  Aging is guaranteed – but growth and change are a choice.  Do you think differently about something today than you did a year ago?  GOOD.  It means you’re learning.  Do you think differently about big ideas than your family of origin, your nuclear family, or your extended family?  GREAT.  It means you’re uniquely positioned to keep tricky conversations going and model grace and courage in the process. 

Or, do you have no idea what you actually think/believe in the first place?  EVEN BETTER.  This means you have a new-as-a-born-baby opportunity to open your mind, start at ground zero, and shape your own ideas.  Pull in trusted voices; they are the ones writing, speaking, leading, teaching, and likely not sharing inflammatory content or ripping other people apart on social media.  Journal.  Ask hard questions of yourself.  Press on your beliefs, especially the ones you’ve never really examined recently (or ever, in your adult life). 

The longer you’ve held onto an idea, the harder it can feel to let it go if it’s time to do so. 

Here’s a little nature story, because we really are all interconnected:

Did you know lobsters have to shed their shells as they grow?  They get uncomfortable in their too-small shell, crawl under a rock, molt out of the shell, absorb water and expand their bodies, and produce a new shell.  Lobsters do this about 25 times until fully grown. Constant growing, shedding, recreating.

This is how humans grow, too.  We’re nudged to the point of discomfort by events, ideas, people, or the holy spirit. 

But what happens to us next, unlike lobsters, is optional.

We can write the discomfort off as inconvenience or irritation, and continue as if nothing happened. 

OR

We can choose to pause, step back, learn and process, and then… we grow.  

So the discomfort you feel in your own skin goes far beyond inconvenience or irritation.  It’s a literal invitation to cast off an old way of thinking and expand into a more evolved version of yourself. 

Also, once you shed the old shell, there’s no way you can squeeze back in.   You can’t unlearn what you know now, and you can’t unlive what you just experienced. 

This showing up for your own life.

It’s more simple than I want to believe.  I don’t have to have all the answers, or do any of it right the first time.  I just have to show up.

And when I show up for my own life, with my mind and heart open, and a spirit of willingness, I get to trust that every step I take will bring me to a place where I can see the next step after that.  I get to believe that each particular piece of the process is teaching me everything I need to learn before I get to go further. 

Or, you can stay in the same shell your entire life, if you choose.  Nobody is going to make you change.  (Case in point: women have been trying to change men from the dawn of civilization and it does not work.)

Growth is hard.  But it’s way more exciting, more promising, more rewarding, and more full of potential than staying comfortable could ever be. 

Show up for your own life.  Be willing.  That’s all it takes.   

HP,

J

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MOTHER WARRIOR | MOTHERS DAY
May 09

Mother Warrior – a Mothers Day battle cry

By Jessica Allen | Faith , Family , Grief

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

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

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

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

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

Mothers losing their children isn’t about politics. 

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

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

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

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

What can I do?

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

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

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

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

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

I am a mother who lost her son.

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

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

Mothers Day

It’s no coincidence tomorrow is Mothers Day. 

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

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

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

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

I want my children to learn love.  No exceptions.

Because God is love, and God loves his children.

That’s all of us.  No exceptions.

Happy Mothers Day, loves.

HP,

J

Prayer | when the answer is no
May 07

Prayer: when the answer is no

By Jessica Allen | Faith , Grief

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

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

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

The irony is not lost on me.

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

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

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

Answers to prayer: yes, not yet, and no

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

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

But it never hurts as much as a no

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

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

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

The kind of no that changes your life forever.

When no changes the game

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

But the answer was no.

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

But that miracle did not come to pass.

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

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

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

God is God, and I am not

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

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

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

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

Deal breaker

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

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

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

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

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

When God says no, maybe it feels cruel. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learning from no

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

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

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

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

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

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

The power of prayer

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

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

I was wrong

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holy ground

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

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

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

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

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

And perhaps even, especially when the answer is no.

HP,

J

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

8 ways to keep from going crazy in quarantine

By Jessica Allen | Life

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

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

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

When the bomb drops

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

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

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

That would be a lie.

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

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

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

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

Looking back on my own mini-quarantine

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

And that “remembering” feels like…

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

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

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

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

Sense of purpose during quarantine

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

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

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

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

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

1. This virus and quarantine season is temporary.

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

2. Remember WHY you do what you do.

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

3. Treat yo’self!

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

4. Pick a goal.

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

5. Be honest about how you think and feel.

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

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

6. Fill your mind and ears with positive voices.

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

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

7. Keep a loose and forgiving routine.

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

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

8. Keep perspective and stay in gratitude.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HP,

J

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

Restless thoughts and Elephant Rocks: a true childhood story

By Jessica Allen | Life

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

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

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

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

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

I know I'm not the only one.

Our brains have limitations

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

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

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

I woke up with images from my childhood in mind.

Nostalgia

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

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

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

These stories are treasures. 

Homestead

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

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

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

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

Family memories

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

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

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

Elephant Rocks

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

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

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

Quiet the restless thoughts and find the lesson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sort through the discomfort

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

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

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

Listen to your thoughts

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

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

HP,

J

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

To dust we shall return

By Jessica Allen | Faith , Grief

I am no stranger to ashes.

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

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

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

Repentance

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

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

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

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

A simple Lenten practice 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HP, J <3

P.S. 

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