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Category Archives for "Faith"

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

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.   

Waiting | Advent | meditation | devotional
Dec 17

Waiting: an Advent meditation

By Jessica Allen | Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advent History 101

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

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

Advent is a time to wait.

But waiting isn’t easy.

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

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

Comfort vs. confidence 

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

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

Confidence beats comfort every time.   

Waiting isn’t easy...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

...but I will wait anyway

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

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

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

Through the heartbreak of miscarriage.

Through the agony of losing a son.

Through the fear of a fraying marriage.

Through the confusion of betrayal and loss.

Through the humiliation of my own mistakes.

Through the blindness of an unknown future.

I will wait. 

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

The promise of Advent 

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

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

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

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

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

He's worth the wait.  

HP,

J

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

Seasons change and so do I | fall leaves | changing seasons in life | seasons of life change
Sep 10

Seasons change – and so do I

By Jessica Allen | Faith , Marriage

It’s Texas, and it’s still 100 degrees out, with no end in sight.  I love summer, and pool weather, and the fun and excitement and relaxation it holds.  Yet seasons change, and I posted on social recently that September can keep its pumpkin spice… I’ll take root beer floats in my swimsuit any day. 

But fall is coming.  I can see it.

I can actually see it, in the way the afternoon sun looks a little different, and the sky is bluer than blue.  LJ October blue. 

This is my favorite time of year, when the seasons change, because there’s electric energy in the air.  Maybe it’s back to school, or the return of football, or that we’re all finally ready to start pulling new colors out of our closets.  Perhaps it’s the familiarity of the routine we settle into as a family, or the excitement of Saturdays together at the baseball parks. 

This season is different

This year, especially, I think it’s the anticipation of our 10th October missing our son that’s stirring my spirit, setting me up for a new season of reflection and growth.  There’s something about these big milestones – and all the emotion they bring - that makes my chest feel heavy.    

Whether it’s the turning of the earth or the shifting of my life, when seasons change it's promise that we’re still here, still evolving, and still have something to offer the world.  This is the part of change I can get on board with. 

As we usher each new season in, there’s opportunity to learn through grooming, to exhale in rest, and to expand with growth. 

Seasons change to groom you for something greater

In my experience, grooming seasons tend to happen simultaneously with or directly following a big setback or trauma.  Something that is often out of our control, or a seemingly-impossible circumstance thrust upon us against our will.  My specific setbacks were death and the unraveling of our marriage.  The months that followed each trauma were excruciatingly painful seasons of massive pruning, in uniquely different yet similar ways.  

Life after death 

This grooming season carved away everything I thought I knew about God, my own faith, and my vision for my own purpose in the world.  (That is a whole separate book.  Hold tight.) 

In the meantime, the short version is that my faith grew up stronger and thicker than before, my understanding of God deepened, and my trust in His mercy abounds.  This season of change was grooming at its finest and most rewarding.

Life after marriage-death

This was (and in many ways, still is) a season in which Jack and I both experienced the cutting away of parts of ourselves that were wilted or dead.  We slashed away habits that no longer served us.  He and I both changed behaviors holding us back from the faith and relationships and life we were meant for.  We opened our eyes to beliefs we thought were true but turned out to be wrong.  And we learned about betrayal from people we thought we could trust.  Because we wanted to heal and be whole, better than we were before, there was no room for any more weeds or thorns between us.  Arrogance, selfishness, dishonesty, fear… we dug them all up and cut them at the root. 

Grooming seasons of change are full of humbling setbacks and painful self-discovery.   They also, inconveniently, require embarrassing confessions to ourselves and others.  The first step is admitting you have a problem, yes?

Grooming seasons press on us until we give way

Grooming is more “letting go” than anything else.  A willingness to release things we don’t need anymore.  I believe this is God’s way of making us just uncomfortable enough to finally be willing to drop our grip of what we think is best in favor of what He knows is best.  Not surprisingly, the less junk we hold onto, the more clearly we can see His plan for our lives and the lighter our steps feel moving forward in its direction. 

Grooming seasons require routine maintenance

While some seasons of change are specifically for grooming, we’re always in the process of maintenance.  Little shoots of toxic growth pop up from time to time, in the ways we snap at each other and settle back into old lazy patterns.  The grief wheel is always, always, always turning.  But we can recognize those triggers or slipping patterns now and perform a mini-groom much more quickly than the full season originally required. 

That’s the beautiful thing about grooming seasons – they are a remarkable “reset” phenomenon, restoring you to a new factory setting.  From this clean slate, new possibilities emerge and so does a stronger, wiser version of yourself. 

You just have to make it through. 

Things that happened in our grooming seasons

We grieved, we retreated, we desperately searched for answers and “why.”  We rejected help until we were drowning in our own incapability.  Finally we asked for help from our family and friends to cover meals, housework, errands, and tasks that were easy to delegate.  We didn’t eat, exercise, or sleep well.  He and I both sought wise professional counsel for our mental, emotional, and spiritual health.  We snapped at each other a lot and practiced lots of forgiveness and sacrificial love.  We said no to just about everything and everyone in favor of our self care.  Nobody had energy to care what anybody else thought about us.  We accepted love and care from people without feeling pressured to reciprocate. 

You may be in a grooming season if:

  • You feel squeezed or pressed
  • You’re navigating a crisis, loss, or major life decision
  • You feel there’s not enough time
  • You think you can’t handle one more thing
  • You’re relying on your own strength to face a problem you can’t solve
  • Your equilibrium has shifted in favor of self-reflection and self-care
  • You feel pulled in every direction
  • The idea of anything new feels scary and unwelcome

Helpful hints for coming out stronger through a grooming season:

  • Pray for clarity as to what you are supposed to be learning
  • Be willing to ask yourself hard questions and answer honestly
  • Enlist a friend or family member to hold you accountable for changes you’re making
  • Remind yourself often that change is uncomfortable but necessary for the full life you desire to live
  • Practice good time management to prevent overwhelm
  • Get plenty of sleep and eat well (your mind is trash if your body is unhealthy!)
  • Give yourself and everyone around you exceeding amounts of patience and grace
  • Ask for and allow other people to help you
  • Fill your mind with good things – books that bring actual comfort, no matter the genre

Seasons change to allow you to rest

After those massive grooming seasons of change through grief and marriage recovery, we felt exhausted and renewed all at the same time.  It was like coming out of an underground cave – the world looked different, we looked different to ourselves and to each other, and we were beyond grateful to have made it out alive.  Quite literally, in both cases.  

Grooming seasons changed to seasons of rest.  With refreshed perspective and hearts full of hope, these new seasons were nothing but bright and truly felt like a gift after all we had been through.  We played and laughed.  We celebrated and put on weight and loved every single minute of our light-hearted life.  It wasn’t perfect, and it won’t ever be, but compared to the darkness we stumbled through it’s pretty sweet.

Those seasons of rest were exactly what we needed to heal, recover, and enjoy each other and our life again.  Not much was asked of us and that was absolutely okay.  There was no chaos anymore.  Just peace. 

Things that happened in our rest seasons

Lots of reading, deepening of our spiritual lives, fun at the ballpark, great food, great wine, joy in our friendships, gratitude for the lessons we learned, hope for the future, continued self-discovery and reinvention.  Jack reshaped his business model and time management.  I started writing this blog.  We spent lots of time together as a family living the values we hold in priority.  We had a baby!  (I realize a baby means no rest at all but the decision to bring a little life into the world was made in the most rational and present mindset.)

You might be in a resting season if:

  • All engines are humming sweetly with ease
  • You feel comfortable and safe
  • There is peace in your mind and spirit
  • Your calendar is full of things you like and want to do
  • It’s easy to say no to things that seem overwhelming or “extra”
  • You are enjoying activities and self-care guilt-free
  • Your equilibrium has shifted and settled in favor of faith, self, and family

Helpful hints for enjoying the fullness and peace of a resting season:

  • Express prayers of gratitude for all that you’ve been given
  • Limit technology and screen time
  • Rest and give your body what it needs
  • Take pictures (in the next grooming season, you will be so grateful you did)
  • Journal and document special moments and experiences
  • Stand confidently in the choices you make
  • Embrace the relationships rising to the top of your life
  • Practice great time management to still accomplish your goals while leaving plenty of uninterrupted time for your family and friends
  • Dream about your vision for the future

Seasons change to push you to grow

Somewhere in those rest seasons we started to dream again.  It’s hard to create anything out of chaos, so it’s no surprise that as our life calmed, so did our minds and hearts, freeing up space for creativity and future-minded thinking.  We were able to take inventory of our careers and their trajectories, determining where we really felt called to direct them.  We felt pulled to move forward with plans and pick up where we left off before we lost our son and almost lost our marriage. 

More is expected of us during seasons of growth.  Everything we’ve learned from those trying seasons of grooming, and everything we perfected in seasons of rest, comes into play when growth is required.  We can take those new skills, that stronger belief, the renewed sense of self and purpose, and apply them all to a new mission. 

Growth is an invitation.  Not a requirement

I can think of many opportunities in which I’ve been invited to grow and said no - either consciously or subconsciously.  I may have said no to growth because I was scared or doubtful.  Growth looks like time… like work… like inconvenience.  It looks like therapy... like hard conversations... like staying in painful moments until you've seen them through.

Growth is not mandatory.  Saying no to growth is okay, but it comes at a price.  You will stay exactly where you are, with the same problems and anxieties you have, unless and until you are willing to grow around and through them.  Some people spend their entire lives in this place by choice, or some by unawareness.  I don't ever want to do that.  There's too much abundant life to be lived to stay stuck.  

Because growth is optional, some people will say no when you say yes.  We will outgrow certain people in our lives.  This is hard.  It doesn’t mean the relationship is over, but it does mean the relationship is redefined.  But here’s some good news: the right people will always grow with you, or meet you on the way, and they will cheer for you it happens. 

Things that happened in our growing seasons 

Jack expanded his business, we took on more opportunities to mentor and lead in all aspects of our life, we had better discussions about time/money/emotional management, our teamwork patterns kicked into higher gear, we experienced bumps in our relationships and had to make peace with some redefined boundaries, I’m feeling a push towards new projects and sense of urgency to pursue bigger goals, it’s easier to prioritize commitments, time seems to multiply and so does productivity.  

You might be in a growing season if:

  • You feel inspired and a little scared, or uncomfortable but excited about it
  • An opportunity is knocking that you can’t ignore
  • New ideas are welcome
  • You feel focused, driven, and “in the zone”
  • Your creativity is through the roof
  • You are enjoying collaborating with other people
  • Your equilibrium is shifting to a focus on goals and the future

Helpful hints for making the most of a growing season

  • Pray for clarity and willingness to move in the direction you’re being called to go
  • Write down or record every idea that comes to mind
  • Share your ideas with a mentor or friend who can encourage and hold you accountable
  • Practice great time management to accomplish your goals yet provide for self-care and rest/renewal
  • Stay in contact with your VIP relationships
  • Read great books and listen to inspiring audio
  • Establish good systems for meals, schedules, etc. to simplify the logistics of your life

Important truths for every season

So where do you find yourself right now?  No matter which season you’re in, you can hold tight to these important truths:

  • There’s room to rest.
  • You have the power of choice.
  • You are never helpless and never alone.

There are tools and resources at your disposal.  There are people in your life who are divinely placed to help and support you.  And I believe God is standing right beside you, waiting for you to grab hold and trust His guidance.

So with the sky getting bluer each day closer to October, I’m embracing the season I’m in – a little uncomfortable, a lot exciting, with a lump in my throat and bright hope for tomorrow. 

Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside. 

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. – Ecclesiastes 3:1

HP,

J

Seasons change | Grooming season | quick tips for navigating a grooming season
Seasons change | Season of rest | Quick tips for managing a season of rest
Seasons change | Season of growth | Quick tips for navigating a growth season
Why I Write | woman writing | find your purpose
Aug 20

Why I Write

By Jessica Allen | Faith , Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why I write: to shine light in the dark

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thus forward in faith I go.

So why do I write?

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

My only responsibility is simply to offer it up.   

The rest is up to Him.

HP,

J

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

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

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

Why I Write | typewriter and blank paper | find your purpose
Find your purpose | man on mountain | what's your why
Lose Control |Find what you can count on | out of control horse
May 30

Lose Control (and find what you can count on)

By Jessica Allen | Faith , Life

Things I can control

My attitude

My spiritual life

My communication

My health

My choices

My investment into my relationships

My self care

Things I cannot control

Literally Everything Else.

Baby out of control mess
Clearly.

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

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

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

One day at a time

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

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

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

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

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

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

Schedules will get overwhelming.

People will disappoint you.

You will drop the ball on something important.

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

So what can I count on?

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

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

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

Who are you that person for? 

When you lose control

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

Instead, go back to what you can count on

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

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

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

Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;

Taking, as He did, this sinful world

As it is, not as I would have it;

Trusting that He will make all things right

If I surrender to His will;

That I may be reasonably happy in this life

And supremely happy with Him

Forever in the next.

Amen.

One. Moment. At. A. Time. 

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

Heartfully Present,

J

Reading list:

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

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

Lose control | Find what you can count on | out of control horse
Lost and found grief wheel|waves on the beach|true story
May 14

Lost and Found: a turn of the grief wheel

By Jessica Allen | Faith , Family , Grief

I don’t panic much anymore – life experience has taught me that it’s not much use.  But I panicked this week.

Our little baby is being baptized soon.  All our children have worn a little sea shell on their baptismal clothes – a shell that was used to baptize their oldest brother in the moments before he died.

That tiny shell is worth more to me than the entire world on a silver platter.

And I can’t find it.

Lost things

7 years have passed since our last baptism and I have absolutely no idea where I put the shell.  We never imagined we’d have another baby, and we’ve moved twice since then.  It’s not in the places it should be, or logically even might be.  I can’t even remember if I would have left it sewn to big brother’s vest, or snipped it off to store in the right place for safekeeping.

We have torn this house apart top to bottom trying to find it.

I keep LJ’s things in a chest made for us by a dear friend.  It rests high on a shelf in my closet, and is our #1 “house is on fire” item to grab.

It is packed with treasures – things he wore, the brush we used for his hair, hospital cuffs that barely fit around my fingers.  A celebratory cigar.  Cards people sent, ribbons we wore, programs from his service, a song someone wrote.  The lovey he rested on.  The blankets we snuggled in.  The tiniest clothes you’ve ever seen. 

His clay footprint.  A wisp of his hair.

I don’t open this box often because it’s too hard to unpack – in every way.  I know what’s in there and that’s enough for me. 

But as we are preparing for this baptism, I need to find this shell and that’s where it should be.

So I found myself on Mothers Day carefully sorting through all these precious things… with G peering wide-eyed over my shoulder for the first time. 

Sometimes this story, this motherhood and grief experience, is too surreal to understand.

Things are just things… except when they’re not

I forget how awe-inspiring LJ’s tiny things are.  He weighed only 1 pound.  The hat he wore fits snugly on a little lemon.  No wonder G was captivated.  His story is as natural and as integrated into our family as what we’re having for dinner, so her questions are always simple and straightforward, and so are our answers.

Yet as she wanted to touch and explore the treasures in LJ’s chest, I felt myself heave a wave of resistance against her.  It was a new feeling in the grief wheel, one I haven’t recognized until now.  I don’t think I realized how protective I am of LJ’s things

Maybe it’s because he won’t ever have any more of them. 

Our family members leave things at his niche and I always collect them.  Even down to the wilted flower petals.  I tuck them away in a vase in a cabinet.  The bunny picks from his Easter lily went in there.  So did the candle from his birthday cupcake and the bow from his Christmas poinsettia.  These are all special to me.

But they’re not his things.

Perhaps if I knew where the shell was, I wouldn’t have been so touchy with G.  I heard my voice rise and raise, and realized I was allowing my emotions to take over what should have been a sweet and tender moment showing my amazing daughter what was in the box. 

Most days I have a good handle on this stuff, but yesterday wasn’t one of them.

Search paused

I packed the box back up and paused the search.  It was already past dinner time on Mothers Day and my head and heart and sinus cavity were all pounding.  After a full day of church, brunch, a visit to LJ, family time, and this dogged hunt, I felt completely maxed out.

G went back upstairs to keep looking through closets for boxes we may have missed.  Thank you GOD for making her so unflappable.  She will survive in spite of me, no worse for the wear. 

I laid down on the couch to pull myself back together and make peace with the idea that I might not ever find this shell.  I give things away all the time, I love to do that, and if the shell was still sewn to the vest, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that I could have loaned that little suit to someone or even placed it into a donation box without thinking. 

It’s just a thing. 

But it’s his thing.  It’s his last thing. 

Found things

After a few minutes I went back to check one more packing box of shoes high in the closet. 

The box was mislabeled. 

It was full of LJ treasures.  And at the very bottom of the box… was the shell. Still sewn snugly to the vest.  

I was so relieved that we found it.  So was G.  She said, “Mommy, is it weird that I prayed that we would find it?”  Not at all, sweet girl.  No prayer is ever too small for God to care.

I curled up with Jack in my jammies, checked my brain at the door, and ate peanut butter out of the jar in front of the TV that night.  I don’t do that often but some days there’s just not enough heart space left to unpack anything else. 

So today I am grateful for a lovely Mothers Day spent loving the hearts in my care… yet feeling a little hung over.  Stuffy-nosed, puffy-eyed, and slow-moving. 

The Grief Wheel

Grief is a wobbly wheel.  At the top of the wheel is my lovely, high-functioning life.  At the bottom of the wheel is, among other dysfunction, the panicky voice that came out at G. 

When the grief wheel starts wobbling, sometimes it makes its full lumpy turn in 10 seconds or less.  Sometimes it takes the entire month of October.  There’s still no rhyme or reason for what starts the wheel in motion.  And much to my dismay, in defiance of my 10 years of trying, there’s still no quick push to get it to turn faster. 

(I have paid lot$ of therapists lot$ of money to learn that there really is no trick or instruction manual for this wheel.  We really do have to just muddle through the motion, trusting God for the next best step in the dark.)

Things I’ve found

I like a good moral at the end of every story, but I don’t know that there is one here, and even if there were, my heart is too tired to understand it and my mind is too tired to try to put it into words. 

It doesn’t mean I am any less joyful, or any less grateful for the life I am blessed to live. 

It just means that this heart stuff is hard sometimes, and maybe we aren’t supposed to have all the answers.  Not every wrench in the grief wheel fits onto a Pinterest-worthy graphic.     

In the meantime, I’ll label that box correctly, tuck it back high on a shelf, take a good hot bath, and save the rest of my unpacking for another day.  The wheel will eventually wobble its way around.

HP,

J

I hope you’ll join our Happy Mail Club! I send one love letter a week, with surprises and tips for keeping your sanity (and your marriage) intact. Just pop your fav email address into the box up there and you’re in the club. No secret handshake required. <3

grief wheel|stages of grief
What men think | questions on faith
Feb 28

What Men Think Part 1: Honest Answers to Questions on Faith

By Jessica Allen | Faith , Marriage

It’s not what you think. I mean, it’s a lot of the stuff we assume they’re thinking, for sure. And sometimes, they really are just thinking about absolutely nothing at all. But I’ve learned most of what men think is just as full, complicated, meaningful, and important as what women think.

men working | what men think | man and baby
Men at work

This is a snapshot of a typical day during our week. Our real office is alllllll the way upstairrrrrrrrs and who wants to do that all day?! So our kitchen table is where all the magic happens. We talk ideas and strategy over the tops of our computers, reheat cups of coffee and eat sandwiches without plates, and pass the baby back and forth when we take calls. It’s a rhythm we settled into when E was born, and its predictable unpredictability makes every day exciting.

One day last week, after I whined that I didn’t accomplish much of what I wanted to, Jack said, but you did x, y, and z! I said – YOU did those things for me! To which he replied, it’s a team effort. Want me to write a blog post for you too?

And I said, YOU’RE HIRED. I decided to interview Jack for a post on making your marriage work – from the man’s point of view.

So here’s where you came in: you sent us your questions on marriage, faith/lack thereof, jealousy, communication, de-stressing, money, sex, balance, trust, and more.

Jack is drop dead, I-can’t-believe-he-said-that honest, so he didn’t hold back. I asked him to approach these questions as if they were going to be read by a lot of women and maybe some men too. How would he want to help women better understand what’s going through their husbands’ heads and hearts?

We’re no experts and certainly aren’t certified therapists, so take it all with a grain of salt and remember that you know your spouse better than anyone. However, we did walk through some pretty deep sludge, and we learned a lot on our way out. There’s a lot of stuff we’re still working through because we’re still human and that stuff was really, really hard.

I set Jack loose with the questions expecting some bullet point answers back. But he went so deep on these that 1) he surprised me, and 2) I decided to split the interview into several chapters.

It’s no secret that we bottomed out a couple years ago and in case you’re new to our community (or you’ve been living under a rock!), along with bottoming out came an affair and the absolute devastation it created in the aftermath.

I tried for a very long time to clutch all these pieces close, afraid of what would happen if people knew. But people did know, and then more people found out, and then some people thought it would be fun to tell some other people… and I watched as all those little pieces blew into the wind, out of my hands. As awful as that was, nobody died, and a very unlikely little ministry has come out of the whole experience. Yay. (Some days that’s sarcasm but most days I mean it.)

It’s funny what happens when you turn over all those little broken pieces to God. He puts them back together in the most surprising ways.

The vast majority of your questions were on spirituality, prayer, and faith in general. I have to admit I was surprised by that. Although I shouldn’t have been; that was the single biggest contributing factor to the wedge that drove our marriage apart, and the single factor that mended it back together.

So that’s where we’re going to start. Here are the honest man-swers to your questions on faith! The wisest nugget (in my opinion) is actually in the answer to the last question.

What was your view of God before you became a Christian?

Jack: I always believed in God. I always believed that there was a God.  I believed in Heaven and Hell and that sinners go to Hell, and people that did good deeds went to Heaven.  It was a merit based system.  I grew up Catholic, so this is what I gathered from my time in church as a young boy.  I also believed fully that God was going to punish me for my sins at some point in my life. 

When our son passed away, I thought for sure that this was the punishment that I was waiting for.  When I almost lost my family, that’s another time that I though God was punishing me.  I never realized that all I had to do was invite Him in and love and worship Him. This concept was foreign to me and took a backseat to more of an old testament God that was punishing.

I’m not sure that this is the right use of this term, but it’s close enough and what I believe was happening in my life until the time that I finally made the decision to bring Jesus in and to fully follow Him.  Pervenient Grace is the concept of divine grace.  The idea that God’s grace and love preceded the human decision…my decision…to believe.  I believe that God was always there in my life and that He was trying to pull me in or get my attention, but I was not ready to “release control” of my life and leave it in the hands of a higher power that I could not see.

What brought you to commit your life to God, and what steps did you take to get there?

Jack: In 2016, I was 39 years old.  I was on top of the world.  I was making a healthy salary that made me finally feel that I was getting paid what I was worth. I had some friends that lived life loosely and we liked to party. I had other friends that just wanted to make money and it was like a competition trying to outdo each other. I was totally wrapped up in the financial legacy I was trying to leave for my family.  I always chose work over my family. 

Even though I went to church, I was still waiting for that next round of God’s punishment. I was playing defense when it came to religion.  I never truly knew or believed the love that Jesus had for me, and I never thought I was good enough to receive His love anyway.  I thought he was going to punish me and I was waiting for it, constantly looking over my shoulder. When LJ died, I thought that was my first punishment.  I didn’t understand what was happening to me, but I hid from God at that time in my life.

I finally hit my rock bottom when infidelity hit our marriage.  I couldn’t comprehend what was happening to me.  I couldn’t believe that my family was going to be ripped away from me.  I couldn’t imagine my two beautiful, sweet, innocent children being raised in a split household and by another man.  I couldn’t imagine going through the pain of a divorce and the destruction that brings to families, people, and children.  Most importantly, I couldn’t believe that I was not wanted, not loved, not desired, and not appreciated by the woman that I loved more than anything in the world.  All of the trust that I had for my wife was gone.  I have never felt more alone than I did at that point in my life.

Jack: So, I found myself in the mall parking lot one night. I thought that the world would be better off without me in it.  My pain was unbearable and I thought I wasn’t going to get through this on my own, and I had nobody to help me.  The thought that my life and my marriage, if it was even going to survive, was never going to be the same was too much for me to handle.  I almost took a dive off of the 4 story parking garage that night to just end it all.

But instead, for some reason that I still don’t understand, I just started praying right there in my car.  I remembered all of the things that I had learned at church over the past 15 years. I invited Jesus to come into my heart and I vowed to live my life for him.  

An instant warmth came over me, and a little light shone brightly for me.  I had some direction and no idea what to do with it, but I really liked the way that I felt.  I have no other explanation for what happened to me that night other than Jesus was right there with me, put His hand on my shoulder when I thought I wanted to jump, and said, “Come here child.”

I started reading the Bible every day, listening to sermons and Christian music and I kept a journal of my thoughts and prayers each day. I read Christian books and Christian blogs and completed every bible study I could get my hands on. I realized that the only thing that would make me truly happy, the only person that I could truly count on, the only person that would always be there for me was Jesus.  As much as other people in the world loved me, we are all flawed and selfish.  My new found love kept me going for the 9 long months of hell we walked through before we reconciled.

Jessica’s note:

I had tried for so long to connect on a spiritual level that by the time our marriage fell apart, I was out of steam and was highly skeptical and critical of Jack’s sudden belief. I was so angry that this is what it took for Jack to finally soften his heart. So I left him to do it all by himself with a bitter “well, PROVE IT” attitude. Looking back, I wish I would have dug a little deeper for compassion and patience to affirm his newfound faith. However, the silver lining is that I do believe it forced him to commit and stay the course to finally make his faith personal, meaningful, and lifelong.

Not everyone has a dramatic turn to faith. I don’t – mine is plain and boring! But it’s just as special. All it takes to begin a life of faith is a decision. That’s it.

How have you stayed connected and grown your faith as a new believer?

Jack: I just try to keep my faith as a priority in my daily routine.  When I get too busy, I start to slip and put this on the back burner.  It’s funny…maybe not…but when I put this on the back burner, I always feel unbalanced and my days don’t seem to go as well as it does when I start my day with bible study and prayer.

I have a group of guys that I meet with regularly.  The idea is for this to be a bible study group, but honestly, I think we’ve only actually done bible study two or three times in the past year.  However, we do talk about our lives and below the surface things and are open and honest with each other about our faith.  This is a great group of friends, and believe me we are not perfect by any means…but all of us are working to strengthen our faith and work together to help lift each other up.  I think that these types of relationships and groups are very important, especially to a new Christian that needs guidance.

Jessica’s note:

He NEVER would have sought out a group like this before. Not even socially, for fun. I think many men fight insecurities they would rather die than voice out loud. It keeps them from connecting with people (even their spouses) on a meaningful level.

How did you feel as a sort-of believer in a family of committed life-long Christians?

Jack: This was incredibly hard for me.  My thought at family gatherings was always things like, “I will never be able to pray like that!” and “I hope they don’t ask me to pray” and “I don’t even understand what they are talking about.” It was actually very discouraging.  I didn’t grow up where we talked a lot about our faith or feelings.  I mean, we always were able to if it came up, but for some reason, for me at least, I never wanted to have these conversations with either of my parents or my siblings.

In Jessica’s family, it is completely the opposite.  They are open and honest with deep conversations, feelings, faith, etc.  I have no problem talking about these things now, but I went in with the idea that I was nowhere near where I needed to be to “keep up” with them. So I tried to learn as much as I could, but kept my mouth shut when I had questions.

Personally, I don’t like being the weakest person in the room on any topic.  I have to make a conscious effort to humble myself and ask questions when I don’t understand or don’t know something.  My go-to in this type of situation is to take mental notes and go study up later so I can keep up the next time the conversation comes up.  I wish that I could have gotten over this insecurity at a much younger age.  I would have learned a whole lot more about a whole lot of things growing up.

Jessica’s note:

If your spouse is struggling with faith, or questions, ask and open up the dialogue. Be gentle and patient. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know.” Nobody knows it all this side of heaven. If your spouse has a tendency towards debate and win-lose, don’t lose your cool. Take a break. Find an article or two or even a spiritual mentor to help each other learn, and calmly revisit it later. You may feel the burden of being your family’s spiritual leader right now, but that doesn’t mean it will be that way forever. DON’T GIVE UP.

What do you still struggle with in your faith?

Jack: My biggest struggle, ironically, is that I have trouble talking about my faith with people that I don’t trust completely and that don’t know my story. Believing in and worshipping someone that you can’t see, can’t feel, can’t hear … that has always been weird to me.  Looking beyond the literal interpretation of see, feel, and hear – that’s something that is really difficult for me as well.  I am a pretty good mix of creative and literal, but I lean more toward the literal side of things, at least in real life situations.  I am the kind of person that needs to be hit over the head with a 2×4 to realize something is happening that isn’t set right in my immediate sight.

So, when people say, “God is speaking to me,” I’m actually straining my ears to hear the voice.  When people stop in wonder and awe at a beautiful sunset, I’m thinking, “Yeah…I’ve seen that before…a lot actually.  Whatever.  Show me something new and shiny that I haven’t seen before!”  It took me a really long time to understand the subtleties and the whispers of God’s voice that are constantly around us. I still am so oblivious to them. 

It also has taken me a long time and an incredible amount of consciousness to slow down, look around the world, and see it for the amazing creation that it actually is and to just appreciate the beauty all around us.  It think that appreciation for beauty in general is something that is so lost on us as Americans, whether it be in art, architecture, literature, music, nature, and whatever.  We just live our lives too fast.

Jessica’s note:

Faith and God are challenging topics if either spouse feels skeptical. That skepticism probably comes from insecurity, or in many cases, past pain. It’s okay to be mad at God or even hate Him. He’s big enough to take it. What God really wants is a conversation, even an ugly one. So if you are struggling with faith, just start talking. It will feel awkward at first but all epic stories have humble beginnings.

What advice or help would you suggest for a husband who feels skeptical or fearful of faith in God?  And what would you want his wife to know?

Jack: It’s tough.  For me, it’s very similar to talking about my feelings, which most men don’t want to do.  The skepticism…there are a lot of people out there with a lot of differing opinions on everything including faith and religion.  And everybody has a platform to rant and spread their ideas now with social media.  Combine that with the online algorithms that work to serve you more of the things you have been googling and reading, and it’s really easy to become subtly convinced over time to one viewpoint or another.  It brings a lot of noise and a lot of doubt on things.  If you are literal like me, it’s hard to believe in something that you can’t see and that’s “not really there.”

Find someone that you trust and humble yourself to ask questions.  For me, that was a pastor at our church that I developed a connection with and a long time friend that is studying to become a pastor.  Your wife may be a great resource.  Over time, it was easier for me to ask other people questions when things came up that I didn’t understand.  I developed a learning mentality and once I took the plunge, the more I learned and the more I loved it and appreciated it all.

It just takes that first step.  Don’t wait until you are at your rock bottom.  In your marriage, if you can figure out how to worship together and grow together in your faith, you will avoid hitting a rock bottom, and in fact, the difference this makes in your life and your marriage is absolutely incredible.

Ladies, fight or flight is a big deal with men.  It is how we are wired, and I think it’s hard for women to understand.  We are also very literal, and most of us hate talking about our feelings or anything that is deep inside of us.  Our faith fits into this category.  We don’t like to be the weaker one in any relationship and whether that mentality is right or wrong, it is what it is.  The fight or flight is activated when you start pushing and asking questions that make us feel less than.  Try to find a way that your husband likes to communicate about things.  This may be in writing so he has time to read and think about it. 

Developing deep trust between the two of you is the way to start, and that’s not going to come quickly.  If you are nagging, we will fight or we will lock up (which is our flight mode in this type of situation).  Find another way to encourage, not discourage.  Lose the attitude that you are trying to change your husband into what you want him to be.  Remember, you can only control you. Lift up, don’t belittle.  And remember, this is all a work in progress.  It will not happen overnight.  It may take years, and it may take a lifetime.  Stay the course and continue to pray for him and for your family. 

Jessica’s note:

Part 2 of this interview is work and life balance – check it out here!

HP,

J (and J)

new adventure
Jan 31

Let’s go: saying YES to a new adventure

By Jessica Allen | Faith , Life , Marriage

God isn’t messing around when he says “Hop in, let’s go.”

He said it to Noah.

He said it to Moses.

He said it to Jonah.

He said it to Mary.

He said it to Peter (technically that one was “hop out.”).

He said it to all his disciples.

And He says it to us.

What has been your most recent “let’s go” moment? Maybe it was an itch to try something new, or a nudge to make a big decision like take a new job or move to a new home. Perhaps you met someone, or learned something, had an idea you can’t get out of your head. Maybe there’s a problem you feel burdened to help solve. (If you’ve spent even one minute watching the news lately, there’s probably at least one social justice cause pulling on your heart.)

These nudges, the real big ones, keep you up at night. They draw out your creativity and focus and intensity. They tap into your unique strengths and abilities and purpose, which is why your heart beats a little faster when you think about them.

They are invitations to a fuller life… a life of meaning and contribution and impact. Rarely is it about you. It’s about what God is going to do through you.

That still small voice inside (some call it intuition or your gut, I believe it’s the Holy Spirit) will whisper quietly – but unmistakably – “GO.”

Which is why it’s especially important to tell the crotchety little devil on your shoulder to shut up.

He’s the worst.

His job is to keep you scared, small, insignificant, ineffective, weak, and quiet. His best tool for the job? Lies. Lies about your flaws, lies that you’ll never be more than your past failures, lies that you’re not enough, lies that there’s someone else better for the job.

By saying yes to an invitation to a new adventure, you’re opening yourself up for growth, strength, wisdom, effectiveness, influence, impact, and meaningful contribution.

So it’s no wonder the devil on your shoulder starts throwing every dirty bomb he can to keep you stuck right where you are. He’s smart. He’ll hit you where it hurts and then add another blow just to make sure you’re down for the count.

Fill your mind and your heart with good stuff. It’s the only way I know and believe you can shrug off those lies and the emotions they stir up. So many people live their whole lives tuned into that constant lying voice, rather than dialing into the voice that sees the best in us; the one who created us and invites us for more.

Truths about this invitation:

  • You won’t feel ready
  • You won’t feel equipped
  • You will feel afraid
  • You will try to talk yourself out of it – or run away from it altogether

But here is the most important truth:

There is no one better for the assignment than you.

I find these invitations happen pretty predictably after I’ve fallen hard and picked myself up again with fresh wisdom gained. After I’ve royally screwed up at the end of my rope and surrendered control (a lifelong-to-learn-it lesson for me, apparently).  I’ve gotten quiet enough and willing enough to even be able to hear an invitation for a new adventure.

The invitation to:

  • Change my mindset
  • Refine my behavior
  • Evaluate and nurture my relationships
  • Offer an apology
  • Care for my health
  • Start a new project
  • Say no to something so I have room to say yes to something else
  • Create something of value

A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life. – Coco Chanel

A few years back, I went crazy and cut my hair.  It was drastic and it was fun.  Looking back, I was craving a mega change in my life, but I completely ignored the right invitation.  I didn’t have the awareness or insight yet to realize the right new adventure was going to take a lot more than scissors.  So I rocked a pixie for a couple years while I watched my marriage (and my whole life) fall apart.

Oh, if she only knew.

I ignored the invitation to become a better version of myself on the inside.  It felt too big and too scary to dig into.  I felt unequipped and embarrassed to admit I needed some help and resources, so rather than taking a bold first step towards a better self and a better marriage, I dove into an easy distraction and stayed stuck right where I was.

(If this is you, and your marriage/finances/parenting/spiritual walk need some TLC, slip into our online conference for FREE, from the safety of your home and computer screen.  Click here for info and to register.)

You know full well the new adventure that’s inviting you.  Get quiet, get honest with yourself, and muster up just enough guts to call it by name.  

Actually do that, right now.

So what is it?  It may look like a big decision you’ve been dragging your feet on, or it might just be a simple shift in your mind or routine that will make a huge impact in every area of your life.

But wait…

I get it, today’s not a good day to start.  It’s a Thursday.  There’s a full moon.  Suzy has softball tryouts.  You’ve still got the tail end of cedar fever.  There are always a million excuses, a million reasons why you should wait.  Maybe you’re dressing up procrastination as “I need to ask another person’s opinion.”  I have done all these things.  Let me save you time and heartache because excuses don’t work.  They don’t help reach a decision and they definitely don’t bring any peace.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  Indecision is a huge anxiety trap.

This is your one wild and precious life.  You get to call the shots.  The best time to plant a tree was 10 years ago, but the next best time is today.  Take a deep breath and pick up your feet. 

Mostly, a new adventure probably feels scary.  It’s because we’re not meant to go it alone.  Find someone who believes in you enough to smash the bottle of champagne on your boat and put wind in your sails. What other people think is none of your business but we all need a cheering section. 

If you feel unequipped, you probably are.  Spoiler alert.  But the tools you need will appear when you start moving forward with a determined heart and a made-up mind.

With every step forward, that shoulder-devil is going to remind you of why you’re going to fail at this new adventure.  Mine likes to ask me: what’s the point?  That’s his favorite weapon to make me feel small and insignificant.  LIES.  Swat him away.

Instead, make up your mind to look to the One who invited you along for the journey, and say, even in the shakiest voice, “let’s go.”

HP,

J

Drop a comment below: what’s the one adventure you know you’re being called into right now but are scared to take the first step?  Then subscribe to our community for great tips on personal growth!