fbpx

Category Archives for "Faith"

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!

nine years of grace
Jan 21

Nine Years of Grace

By Jessica Allen | Faith , Family , Grief

I promised I would be present today. Fully present, for Grace.

I also promised myself I would write about it.

So after all the dishes were cleaned and wrapping paper collected, kisses given and little bodies tucked into bed, here I am in the recliner in the dark, rocking my sleeping baby, poking one letter at a time into my phone. Such is this full life – I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Today was a sweetly simple girly birthday, full of all the things she loves and nothing she doesn’t. (which is pretty easy – she loves everything.)

I’m always super mushy on her birthday, mostly because I still can’t believe she’s real. I have to pinch myself to remember her story is the most extraordinary surprise of my life, and from it, infinite good continues to flow.

As beautiful as Grace’s adoption is in hindsight, is as scary as it was in the moment of its happening.

Adoption is complicated. Your heart… your heart. It takes a beating.

Grow. Strengthen. Hurt. Break. Mend. Learn. Heal.

Repeat.

We didn’t have the waiting game to contend with as so many foster and adoptive families do. Our family found us, in the strangest call to action ever. We were less than three months removed from our son’s death and still trying to find our footing. Most days we walked around hollowed shells of ourselves, if we ever even left the house, going through motions and just checking boxes. What was the point of any of it?

When we got the news about Grace, it seemed too good to be true. Or maybe a cruel joke. It was all I could do to put my shoes on, much less rally to accept a newborn into our home. What would our families say? What about all these other people who were actually in the adoption process – surely this would seem unfair.

God is not about the business of fair. (He and I are going to have a gloves-off chat about that someday, anyone want to join me?)

But God is in the business of working all things together for good, for His grand masterpiece. See Romans 8:28

I don’t believe he caused our son to die. I do believe he allowed it. And I believe it broke his heart, the same way it broke his heart when he allowed his own son to die. 

I think he knew it would create a fracture in me… in Jack… in our marriage… that ONLY HE could fix.

Even in our grief, we knew a new baby would never be a replacement for the precious life we lost. 

But it felt so scary.

So I went to talk to LJ in the Garden. I needed his blessing I guess, strange as that sounds. 

When I go, I collect and keep all the petals from flowers people leave, including the gorgeous white roses Jack’s mom left on a regular basis. (Grief and loss do weird things to a person. I can’t stand to watch flowers die anymore.)

As I walked into the Garden that day to tell LJ about Grace, I noticed that, for the first time ever, the beautiful blooming rose in his corner… was pink.

Sign after sign after sweet sign continued to affirm that we were making the right decision. Even still, nine years later; those little winks are encouragement to just keep going, no matter how small and ill-equipped I feel.

The adoption process was hard. Paperwork, questions, interviews, visits, decisions that felt impossible in the wake of a death. Especially crammed into the 3-week timetable we had. Angels in human skin were there at every turn, providing help and encouragement where we felt out of our league. We stayed the course, kept the faith, clung to belief in the miraculous outcome we knew was coming.

And then she was here. 9 pounds of grace that washed over every bleeding wound and ugly scar I’ve ever had.

The plan seems so screwed up sometimes. But His promises do not fail. 

  • His promise that he will bind up the wounds of the broken hearted. Psalm 147:3
  • His promise that he will equip us where he has called us to go. Hebrews 13:21
  • His promise that though we are infinitely flawed, His character never changes.  Hebrews 13:8
  • His promise that we are more loved and more valuable to Him than all the works of his creation. Matthew 6:26

We. Me. You. More loved than we can understand.

So as I look into the face of this amazing tiny human, all I can muster is gratitude. For her life, the simple breath in her lungs that brought me back to life too. Her story is my favorite and if you’d like to know more you can find it here.

She’s only ours for a little while. I feel such overwhelming responsibility – even more so than with my biological children – to love and guide her well. Because not only was she divinely entrusted to us, she was given to us as a heart-aching gift of an earthly family.

This humbles me every day.

I am far from perfect. And anything I know is because of the amazing strong women in my life who teach me to love and lead with my arms wide open and my eyes looking UP. As long as the mistakes are made right, and we stumble through all this mess with belief in the One who sets us free, it’s all going to turn out just fine.

For our village who has loved and prayed for Grace from the moment you knew her, thank you. Her life – our family’s life – is abundant in blessings because of it. Tonight all our people gathered to eat and celebrate. We are so lucky you’re all here. Thank you for embracing our girl’s love for spaghetti and meatballs, a half-paint-prepped Bora Bora Blue big girl room, enthusiastic piano plunking, and more dollies and unicorns than you’d ever care to see again. There were children and big people everywhere, all loving and helping each other and I never once worried where the baby was. I hope you love being here as much as we love having you here.

Arms wide open means there’s room to wrap everyone up inside. That’s what grace – Grace – has taught me more than anything. I am never alone, even in my deepest despair. And when I can get out of the way just enough for God to take the lead, he will surprise me time and again with something better than I ever would have imagined.

For my girl,

HP

J

There’s more of this over in the “Family” and “Faith” pages of the website – and be sure to subscribe to our community to receive some occasional soup-for-the-soul goodness in your inbox.

dream big
Jul 28

Dreams in real life (MASH)

By Jessica Allen | Faith

My children apparently know how to play MASH.

I have no idea where they learned it, but it might be the funniest thing I’ve ever found them doing peacefully together.

Remember this game? You list 4 items in each category – people to marry, cars to drive, careers to pursue, and number of children to have. Draw a spiral until someone says stop, count the rings, and then use that number to tally through to narrow your selections down to the “winner” of each category. Finally, you tally down Mansion, Attic, Shack, or Hotel to decide on your house.

They both came up with neat job choices (race car driver, designer, chef) and number of children (1, 3, and 7 billion). The best part though is that they were selecting celebrities to write on their marry lists. But the only celebrity my 7 year old son knew was… Betty White. I laughed so hard I embarrassed him, had to apologize, and then suggested some of his favorite movie characters to add to the list. He seemed content with the possibility of marrying Cinderella.

I remember playing this game as a kid, and how fun it was to dream about what your life would look like when you were a grown up.

So what happens when life throws you all its monkey wrenches and veers you completely off course?

Release your inner control freak

I have control-freak tendencies for sure, but it’s mostly because I like to know what to expect. I like structure and consistency. So it’s definitely part of my personal growth experience to be yoked with “inner circle” people in my life who function in exactly the opposite manner. So I have learned to adapt to more flexible scheduling, slow my sense of urgency at times, and remember that just because I feel an irrational need for a deadline/timeline, it doesn’t mean everyone else needs to operate that way too.

I had my entire life mapped out at 18, from career, to family, to the kind of home we’d live in, to the day I died (at 94 years old, by the way). My own young adult MASH lineup.

Prosperity theology won’t cut it

Mostly I think I like order because it makes me feel like I’m “managing” my life well. It’s easy to buy into a prosperity theology that if I work hard enough and trust God enough, all my self-made plans of health and wealth and success will come to pass. (This is flawed faith and self-centered thinking.)

It’s easy to slip into this mentality because it honors my own desires first and essentially puts God’s plan for my life secondary. Basically, I get to be in charge of my own decisions. I get to trust myself to get myself exactly where I think I should be.  And I get to tell God how and when and why to make it happen. Reflecting on the consequences of even just a few of my major life decisions just within the last 2 years, I am going to step out on a limb and say that I am not qualified to call those shots.

I am a good first-mate. I can follow directions and choose to be obedient even when it is hard. But when it comes to steering the ship? I need a captain much more competent than me.

Dreams in real life: make the right changes

Contrary to what my 4th grade MASH lineup may have indicated, I didn’t marry Jonathan Taylor Thomas and we don’t drive a limo, have 2 children, or live in a mansion.

Absolutely none of my life looks like what I thought it would. Ironic, for the girl who had it so clearly lined out. But I married an incredible man, our little family is anything but ordinary, and what we’re building together is our own version of happily ever after. What I thought I wanted and needed at 21 years old was such a limited vision.

We’re constantly growing, learning, changing, and becoming. I imagine I didn’t even have the skills or the character at that point in my life to understand what I was really supposed to do with my life. (maybe some people never do.)

Dreams in real life: look through the right lens

Even with all the “wisdom” life experience has thrown my way, I still don’t have much clearer vision. What I do know is that my youthful MASH dreams were all about me. My wishes, my vision, my needs, all through the lens of my short-sighted human desires. That can be exhausting. It puts all the pressure on me to determine the right path and be the person I think that path requires. No wonder it’s hard to feel authentic in this noisy world.  So many of us are trying to be some version of ourselves other than exactly who we really are.

By contrast, God’s vision for my life is himself through me. What of His plan can I contribute with my small human hands and heart that will make a difference right where I am? The harder I try to make myself bigger, the more firmly He reminds me that’s not my job. Lessons in humility. Less of me and more of Him. When I live in His vision, he determines the path, leads me to and through it, and continues to shape me into the person He knows I am supposed to be. There is no guesswork required. Just stillness, listening, obedience, and faithful steps forward when it’s time. What a peaceful release of the pressure I have always placed on myself.

Dreams in real life: walk the right path

Adam and Eve walked with God in the cool of the day. He asked nothing of them but their companionship and their obedience. That’s all He asks of us too. It seems so simple. Until my own ego and fallen human nature take over, which is pretty much all the time.

Dreams are real, and I do believe God plants the good ones in us. I want to put my heart and time into those good dreams. Dreams that make an impact for good for a purpose bigger than myself.  Dreams that leave people better than I found them.

If I had to make my own grownup MASH, I think I’d list exactly what I have. Maybe a few silly extra things here and there, superficial wishes. But the big stuff I’ve already been given? This life, the people in my care, the causes for which I’m passionate, the “hats” I get to wear, the path it’s taken to get here… I never would have asked for any of this as a kid. It’s not at all what I dreamed for.

It’s so very much more.

HP,

J

A penny for your thoughts: take a moment to journal some of your dreams you had as a child, and dreams you still hold close in real life (even if they’re buried deep). What are ways those dreams came true, even if they look different than you imagined? I’d love to hear from you in the comments or via email at jessica@heartfullypresent.com.  

keep it real messy life
May 22

3 Ways to Keep it Real and Love Your Messy Life

By Jessica Allen | Faith , Family

Sometimes I am the most awesome woman/wife/mother/room mom/entrepreneur/leader/writer.

Sometimes I don’t know science and help my child make a school project that rots before the due date and makes our whole house smell awful.

Stress Balls | Science Project | Grace's Science

They smelled SO. BAD. #weirdscience #literalstressballs

I would say they even out, but I’m usually on the smelly science side most of the time.

There is just such PRESSURE to have it all together. Most days I can keep perspective and realize that nobody really has it all together. But then there are some days where I am fully human, desperately human. Hopelessly flawed. And painfully aware of it.

This is healthy, I think. The awareness that God is God, and I am not.

It’s what we attach to that awareness that becomes destructive. Yes, God is God, and I am not, but… I should be able to do all those things I feel pressured to accomplish.

Yes, God is God, and I am not, but… why does she have it all pulled together while I am over here being a mess?

If God is God, and I am not, there is peace in knowing I don’t have to have all the answers. I don’t have to have superpowers. It’s okay to say “YES” to caring for myself, offering myself gifts of grace and forgiveness. I can admit my own shortcomings.

No shame allowed. Ain’t NOBODY got time for that.

I just want to keep it real and fall in love every day, all over again, with my one wild and precious messy life. Here’s how I’m trying:

Keep it real: stand firm in your beliefs

I find myself pulled hard between two life philosophies. The first is the achieving entrepreneurial mindset.  The belief that my life is a summation of my own choices, leading up to this moment. I am capable of anything I desire to be/do/have, and my destiny is in my hands, ripe for the plucking. Totally valid. And FUN to work and live by.

The second is the belief in God’s ultimate master plan.  The belief that my life has been designed by a loving and gracious God, who gave me unique abilities, and a specific job to do here on this earth that is mine and mine alone. I have limitless potential when I walk the path He has laid before me. When I stop my grind long enough to be still and listen to know that HE is God, I can align myself more closely on that path. Also totally valid. And peace-bringing to realize I just have to offer my best and the rest is up to God.

These philosophies really can go hand in hand (I think). But it’s so easy to get pulled to one side or the other when I take my eyes and ears and heart off what matters most.  I pull mostly towards the side where I get to take everything into my own hands because I feel strong and confident and powerful there.  I can make my plans all day long, but if they aren’t lined up with God’s vision for my life and work and actions, then they’ve been a misuse of my time.

So what’s a girl to believe? What do YOU believe?  Can you articulate it, put it on paper, live your life by it?  I think most people stumble through life not really knowing – or understanding – what they believe.  I think it’s why so many people spin their wheels, find themselves frustrated with their lives/jobs/spouses, and never quite feel like they’re standing on solid ground.  If you need help with this, check out how to create your Marriage and Family Mission Statement.

Ultimately, I believe there is a purpose for me here, unique from any human before me or still to come, and that when I keep my eyes focused on the Master Planner, He will show me where to go, what that specific purpose is, and equip me with every tool and resource I need to fulfill it. I don’t get to know the timeline or very many of the details. (Oh, how we LOVE that.) It will require every ounce of my willingness, hard work, commitment, and it will involve pain and disappointment before I see a victory. As every good epic tale does. And isn’t this one wild and precious life the most epic tale of all?

The lesson I get handed over and over again (usually in the form of a colossal life meltdown because the subtle redirections weren’t enough) is that this illusion of control I hold onto so tightly is just that – merely an illusion.

But I don’t want to live in an illusion. I want to be the main character in my life’s epic tale – knees skinned, eyes shining, sword drawn, ready for adventure.

Keep it real: you are enough, just as you are

Real is hard. It requires owning my flaws and giving grace to others.  I have to admit I do not know it all, and certainly cannot do it all. This sounds so simple here – and in a vacuum, maybe it is. But we walk around living our lives every day with other human beings in a world that, like it or not, bombards us with messages that we are simply not enough. We aren’t successful enough, we aren’t fit enough, we aren’t outgoing enough, we’re not stylish enough, we’re not charming enough, we’re not a good enough wife/mother/friend, the list goes on.

The world does this, by the way, to sell us things… ideas… habits… and while those things we’re “buying” may improve our circumstances on the surface level, none of them are improving our souls on a level that matters. They’re just perpetuating the illusion.

There’s nothing else I need. I am enough, and so are you.

Keep it real: take the garbage to the dump

Whatever junk you’re carrying – lay it down, far away. Any belief that you are not enough will never serve you well.  It also won’t serve your family or the people you care most about.

If it isn’t freeing you to be the most spectacular version of yourself, it’s time to release it.  Or break it.

Hard truth: when I am comparing my messy don’t-have-it-together life to someone else’s life, all I’m envying is her illusion. The illusion she holds onto with a death grip so no one else will know the ways she’s messy too.

What if by letting go of all this pressure, we can give everyone else permission to do the same?

Here’s to the best, messiest, free-est versions of us.

Keep it real, loves.

HP,

J

Reading List

This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women edited by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman

Drop a comment: what’s your best “laugh it off” mess that happened?  Then be sure to subscribe to our community to get real, honest, weekly goodness in your inbox.  

Worry less and live more
Apr 25

Worry less, live more – how to enjoy the moment

By Jessica Allen | Faith

The house was beautiful. The ocean blue paint was almost dry on the walls, chairs were set in our living room, the sunshine was streaming in through the windows, and the smell of a wonderful meal waiting for us wafted in from the dining room. My dress was perfect, his suit was flawless, and the stage was set for one of the most special days of our life.

Our guests started arriving. No one really knew what to expect from – or even wear to – a vow renewal in our home and I think they were surprised. We wanted to honor our families after all we had been through. (And all we had put them through).

Our amazing neighbors had kept eyes on our children for 10 minutes while we got dressed and the caterers moved everything inside.

And then the children blew back in the door smelling like wet puppies in August Texas heat. G had managed to keep her hair intact and headed upstairs to put on her dress and shoes like an angel. Brother rolled his eyes to Jupiter and every ounce of sweetness in him went on vacation.

As our loved ones were signing frames and picking up prayer cards, we wrestled our squirming son into a button-down shirt and frantically licked-down and combed his hair. He was most upset because the penny loafer “awesome shoes” we sold him on neither fit him well, nor held a penny as we had promised. Why would someone manufacture a penny loafer whose slot is too small for a penny?!

The pastor had arrived by this point and I realized with a sinking feeling that brother’s brand new pants were… in the washing machine.

I am not perfect, ok? Sometimes I cannot remember to dry my son’s pants for our vow renewal.

We grabbed an old too-short pair and because I did not have time for my brain to melt, I chose to ignore it along with his black tube socks and brown non-penny loafers. The boy had clothes on and although he was pouting like a champ, he had at least stopped complaining. There were biscotti and cake on the counter and they worked as shameless bribes the rest of the evening to get at least a few good backyard pictures out of him.

I have to hand it to the kid – he showed up when it counted.

Fast forward.  The other day we were swimming outside and the smell of the jasmine covering the trellis was divine. He paused and quietly said, “Mommy, I wish we had these flowers for our vow renewal.”

Nearly a year later, this little boy remembered that special day. Not his pants, or his shoes, or how mad he was. He remembered the love that filled our home and thought some extra flowers would have been nice too.

Thank you, 6-year-old, for teaching me. How often we get mired in the mess of the moment. How rarely it actually matters in the long run.

I bet there was something that went wrong at your wedding. Hopefully it was closer to “wilted flowers” than “drunk uncle.”

The mishaps are what make it funny. (In hindsight of course.) In the moment it feels like a disaster, like all eyes are on it, like it will single-handedly destroy anything good in the situation.

As we were putting our marriage back together, every setback felt like this. Every new problem, resurfaced hurt, public embarrassment, personal slip-up, felt colossal. Each wound felt unforgivable. All mistakes felt unfixable. Every tiny problem was an Everest.

When you’re right in the middle of the mess, it feels like you’ll never climb out of it. It also feels like everyone is looking at it too.

But they’re not.

People are so wrapped up in their own stuff they mostly have no idea what you’re going through.  They worry less about anything we’re doing than what’s going on in their own head.

I realize that probably 75% of my worry and “nervous cat” behavior during that hard year in marriage counseling was my anxiety about what other people were seeing and thinking.

Why did I do that to myself?

How much more quickly could I have found some healing if I had chosen to worry less?  What if I had redirected that 75% energy towards my own learning and growth? I would have slept better for sure.

100 years from now, will it matter?  What about 1 year from now?  Chances are, the answer is no.  So why are we fretting when we could enjoy our lives and worry less?

This is not a profound or complicated post today – more than anything it’s a simple reflection on how needlessly preoccupied we get with worry and anxiety over stuff that doesn’t matter. “What other people think” should have absolutely no place in my head or heart. We could use this energy in a million different – better – ways.

Whatever your worry today, my prayer is that you’ll set it free.  Worry less.  Live more.

God, I cannot solve this problem with my own mind.
You know what it is and it is not bigger than You.
You already know the outcome and I believe You will equip me
with the wisdom, patience, and skills to reach the solution.
Thank you for leading me through this with grace and love.
Help me erase worry from my spirit and keep my eyes on You.

 Amen.

HP,

J