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Category Archives for "Family"

surviving the holidays | grief | divorce | marriage recovery | struggling marriage
Dec 03

Surviving the holidays when you’re barely surviving

By Jessica Allen | Family , Grief , Marriage

Surviving the holidays seems impossible when your life is falling apart.  (Spoiler alert: you can do it.  Keep reading and you'll see how we made it through too.)

Maybe you're grieving the loss of a loved one.  Maybe your marriage is on the rocks, or one of your children is troubled.  Your career or finances might be hanging by a thread.  All these things bring grief.  And grief is grief.  No matter the source.

Holiday grief

Waves come when you least expect.  Nine years after LJ died I had a meltdown on the floor at Hobby Lobby because I couldn't find six matching stocking hangers.  Everything came in sets of four or five... but not six.  

It came on like a panic - I could feel my heart rate skyrocket and my face get hot.  And I couldn't stop it from coming.  I was on my belly, face down, reaching for the back of the bottom shelves, when I finally just put my head down and cried.  People were sweet, mostly... scared, probably, but compassionate.  I pulled myself together, abandoned my cart, and left.  

There is no rhyme or reason for how grief manifests itself during "the holidays."

Surviving the holidays minute by minute

If you're approaching the holidays with a feeling of heaviness, anxiety, dread, or even despair, sentiments of "joy" or "merry" or "calm and bright" or even basic gratitude might be too much to hope for.  My prayer is that you will find simple pockets or even just tiny flickers of peace and comfort.  A good meal, a conversation with a friend, a book or song that speaks your heart.  

Those moments are treasures, like delicate shells to collect in your pocket.  Because the only thing that makes the anger and pain you're feeling even more distressing is the knowledge that the holidays are coming.  I remember starting to drown in the anxiety that I was going to have to swim in a sea of happy people when I was still such a wreck.  

Why surviving the holidays seems impossible when you're grieving

Entering the holiday season in grief is just about as hard as the loss you're grieving in the first place.  Regardless of the source of your grief, the holidays only magnify the pain grief brings.  What should be such a happy season just isn't happy at all.  

You wish you could close your eyes and wake up on January 2nd.  Skip it all.  Even the New Year, which feels ridiculous because the idea of a "fresh start" is insulting after your whole life has been upended.  If only a snap of your fingers could make it all go away: grief, frustration, confusion, Santa, the mall, the Salvation Army bell ringers, picture-perfect family photos, the Hallmark movie channel, and the blowups on your neighbors' lawn.  Everywhere you look are reminders that the world has moved on... and you're still stuck in sadness or anger.  

It's the most terrible time of the year

We had a rough Christmas once, more than normal.  Sadly, this one was even more awful than the year our son died.  This particular season was just weeks after our marriage detonated.  We both approached the holidays with heaping piles of disappointment, anger, resentment, and fear.  

Neither one of us was able to admit it to the other, but I know we were both terrified it would be our last Thanksgiving and Christmas together under one roof.  So surviving the holidays was especially critical, and doubly hard.  I was mortified to face his family, just as mortified as he was to face mine.  I was positive I was going to become a fold-over in the annual family Thanksgiving picture.  True story.  I think by chance I wound up on the far corner of the group in the photo… I’m sure I manifested that for myself.  (As far as I know, I didn’t get cut out!)

Make the holidays exactly what you need them to be

It was more important that year than ever before for us to create some special memories as “just us.”  We had to set some boundaries that season that confused and likely disappointed our families.  It was uncomfortable, and in many ways it probably would have been easier to just “do what we’ve always done.”  But that’s not what we needed that year, and I’m grateful we had the courage and determination to chart our holiday course differently. 

Surviving those holidays meant getting creative.  We intentionally established a new Christmas Day tradition in our home.  I knew after a full day of Christmas Eve services at church I would be exhausted, and trying to haul everyone out of the house with gifts and merriment strapped on would push me over the edge.  So, we didn’t.  And it is one of the best decisions we’ve ever made for our little family.  We stayed in our jammies, made memories and food together, and stayed present to enjoy what we truly thought was going to be our last Christmas together.  Tragically, if that had been true, it would have been our only Christmas together prepared and enjoyed with that much intention.

For more help on repairing your marriage, especially during the holidays, click here.  

I keep that Christmas in mind whenever I start feeling anxious about what each holiday is going to look like this time around. 

Things I learned from surviving that sweet and special Christmas:

The people who love you most will still love you. 

They will still love you even if you change all the plans and move all their cheese.  They will get over it.  Grit your teeth and wait them out!

Creating your own traditions is priceless.

These are memories you'll have forever.  If this isn't the year for traditions, go do or try something you'd never otherwise do.  Being together is the whole point.  Screw "normal."  There's no normal right now anyway.

Give your children the gift of present and loving parents on holidays.  

You can’t do that if you’re stressed to hell.  A wonderful funny friend of ours said, and I quote: “We don’t want our kids to think we suck at holidays.”  Our children really don’t want as much stuff as we think they do.  They just want us.  

Cook – or cater – a fantastic meal.  

We ordered a gorgeous prime rib, prayed we wouldn’t screw it up, and enjoyed the most incredible Christmas dinner.  One of my best memories of all time is sitting with Jack at the table after the kids had scampered off to play with their new toys.  With full bellies, and no run-around-town stress that day, conversation opened up that brought us some peace.  We were still a long way from reconciled then but I treasure that evening spent together with our guards lowered.  Magic really can happen over a great meal.  

Here are some easy ice-breakers if your relationship is so strained you don't know where to start.  

Thoughtful gifts don’t have to be expensive.  

Maxing yourself out financially only adds to your stress and mental garbage.  There are countless ways to say I love you that don't cost a penny.

But JUST SAY NO to anything that doesn’t bring you absolute peace and presence this season.  

Dragging yourself to and through obligations is a recipe for self-implosion. Saying no is harder for some people than others.  If that’s you, go back and read #1. 

It’s exhausting to stand on principle or try to punish or hurt someone you love on a holiday.  

Stick a pin in the feud; you can always come back to it later.  Be kind to each other, if for no other reason than to give yourself the gift of putting down the heavy weight of anger for just one day.

Don't make any big decisions

Your emotions, stress, fatigue, and blood pressure are all at DEFCON 5.  This is not the time to decide to split up, move out, quit your job, go skydiving, or get a tattoo or a puppy.  Those are all valid ideas that can wait until January.  That's when you'll think a little straighter and make better, more rational choices.

When you’re hurting, it’s time to circle the wagons, hunker down, and put your needs and the needs of your nuclear family first.  

This doesn’t mean shutting people out.  It simply means budgeting your time and energy so that you can give your most important people the best of yourself.  They deserve more than our "leftovers." 

Take pictures only if you want to.  

If someone else really needs a picture, suck it up and pose, while repeating to yourself you never have to look at the photo if you don’t want to.  Especially if it’s a painful reminder of a painful time. You DO have every right to request that it not appear on social media.  

Speaking of social media, STAY OFF SOCIAL MEDIA.  

You can “like” everybody else’s “perfect family pictures” another day.  I say "perfect" because I promise you, they yelled at each other trying to get the perfect outfits or the perfect location or the perfect shot.  And one of the kids probably got threatened within an inch of his life for acting exactly like a kid forced to take pictures in itchy new clothes would act.  When our marriage fell apart, I wish I had a nickel for every time someone said, "we just had no idea anything was wrong."  (It would have paid for all the therapy!)  WE were that perfect family on social media.  Proof that you never truly know what's going on behind the scenes.  

Holidays are not going to magically make pain or struggle disappear.  

But you can find moments of peace and glimpses of goodness if you’re willing to look for them.

Surviving the holidays when you're a mess means simply making it through.  And once you've done it, you'll breath a sigh of relief.  And you might even have a glimmer of hope and gratitude.  (It's okay if you don't, though.  Some years, surviving the holidays is the very best you can do.  We are meant to thrive in the right time, and that time will come.  Just not right now.)

All this being said, if you do feel up to making merry this Christmas in spite of your grief, let your people love you the way they know how.  This means they will feed you and hug you and make you take uncomfortable family pictures.  And even if you stand on the far back corner of the group, I promise they won’t fold you over.

HP,

J

PS: This will help you survive the holidays! 

My new book, Joy Comes in the Mourning, releases Thursday, and it's that kind of book that might bring you a flicker of peace in a difficult season.  It's a raw and real look at the grieving process, no matter your loss or struggle, and will bring you the reassurance that what you're thinking and feeling is okay.  I found the brightest light on my life's darkest path.  And it's my joy to share what I've learned along the way.  Check back here and our social channels on Thursday for where to find the book, and for more help on grief and the holidays.

Turkey | holiday stress | tips for managing holiday stress
Nov 27

Turkey and De-stressing: How minimize holiday stress

By Jessica Allen | Family , Life

I’m an introvert.  Which means even the sweetest gatherings with the people I love most can leave me feeling overwhelmed with holiday stress.  And even after almost 15 years of marriage and 19 total years of shared holidays with both sides of our family, we actually don’t have a set tradition or schedule for Thanksgiving.  It’s a little different every year.  While it always turns out sweet and special, that constant unpredictability is uber-stressful on a person who really likes sameness.

So after 19 years of near-tears and real-tears over what should be a lovely set of holiday meals together, I figured I’d do a little personal work and get to the heart of what stresses me out so much.  Once you can name it, you can solve it, or at least approach it differently so I can actually enjoy myself.  SO here’s my recipe for a big helping of de-stressing with your Thanksgiving turkey!

Tips to manage holiday stress

  1. Plan ahead – Shop early, chop and bag veggies and make the food you can ahead of time.  Pack clothes/supplies the day before.  Make a list and delegate just about everything that doesn’t involve fire or knives or your grandmother’s recipe you love to assemble yourself.  
  2. Ask for help – Even small children can perform easy tasks, like “scoop 6 cups of dog food into this Ziplock bag” or “empty the dishwasher.”  Don’t be a martyr.  I’ve tried it and all it does is make everyone miserable.  Turn the help list into a game if you want, or shamelessly bribe your people with allowance or ice cream or Hot Wheels or whatever you like to bribe them with. 
  3. Simplify – Do you really need the elaborate recipe, outfit, décor, etc.?  Or can you release some expectations and therefore manage your holiday stress level better?  Jen Hatmaker, one of my favorite authors, posted yesterday about the gorgeous green bean casserole she almost got suckered into making, until she remembered that her whole family would riot if if she didn't serve the classic canned cream soup version with crunchy onions on top.  Sometimes the simplest path really is the best. (Except for my mother's stuffing... sorry, mom.  We truly value the three entire days you spend making it and your sons in law will fight each other for the last bite.)
  4. You do you – Although it’s not characteristic of our particular families to engage in divisive political/religious conversations, it’s never beyond the realm of possibility that a sticky topic could come up. We’re all nuts just like the rest of you too.  So if you have some off-limits conversation topics, practice saying clearly with confidence: “Not today.”  Stick to your guns.  Nobody can force you to engage or respond to a conversation that is unkind, divisive, inflammatory, or disrespectful.  If all else fails, literally walk away.  You aren’t ruining anything.  So don’t accept that accusation if it starts flying your way.  If anyone’s ruining anything, they are, by disregarding and disrespecting a very clear self-respecting boundary you set.  
  5. Bring a game to play - Idle time is the birthplace of tricky conversations.  Keep the entertainment going.  Our favorites are Pit (a fast and funny yell-it-out card trading game from my childhood!!!), Spoons, Spades, Balderdash, Scrabble, Pokeno, Avocado Smash, or good old-fashioned War.  
  6. Arrive and/or serve the meal on time - This is my husband's #1 holiday stress hot button.  (actually, his stress hot button in general.). Don’t be late, and if you are, respect your people enough to give them an accurate expectation of your arrival time.  Hungry tummies are cranky tummies.  Full tummies are happy tummies and everyone feels their time - and hot, lovingly-prepared food! - is respected.  (I've ruined many a beautifully grilled pork tenderloin by not being ready for dinner when we decided we'd eat.  We're all works in progress.)
  7. Set technology expectations with children and spouses before you arrive.  Nothing hurts my feelings more than seeing people’s faces buried in screens when we’ve all made such an effort to gather together. 
  8. Realize there is no “perfect” holiday gathering, so….
  9. Get your mind and heart right before you walk in - If relationships are strained, pray for patience, compassion, understanding, love, and restraint.  You can be an agent of war or an agent of peace, no matter what the other person chooses.  What version of yourself do you want to bring to the literal table this holiday season?

To ease holiday stress, absolutely invite these things around your table:

  • Gratitude
  • Patience
  • Peace
  • Simplicity
  • Presence
  • Confidence in yourself
  • Boundaries
  • Gentleness of speech (Think of the children!  Little ears are learning.)
  • Willingness to listen more than you talk
  • Love for your people

Leave these things at home: 

  • Sarcasm
  • Old childhood patterns that don’t serve you any longer (i.e. muting your confidence/capabilities to make someone feel better, deferring to your loud brother, letting unacceptable comments fly unchecked, not standing up for yourself, arguing for arguments’ sake, etc.)
  • Anything hinting at passive-aggressive behavior
  • An ax to grind with someone (Make like Elsa and let it gooooooo)
  • Overindulging (except garlic mashed potatoes and pie, that’s okay)
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Heads buried in devices
  • A need to prove anything to anyone
  • Shame or embarrassment

If you really just can’t even…

If you’re a mess this holiday season, I invite (implore) you to simply be exactly as you need to be.  I also give you permission to blatantly eye-roll the first person who tells you to cheer up or look on the bright side.  SOMETIMES YOU LITERALLY CANNOT DO THAT.  If you’re deep in grief, of any kind, this is the year to practice lots of self-care and maybe even tell your people NO I am not coming.  I have other plans.  And as my dad taught me so insistently when I was young, it is 1000% okay if my “other plans” are simply “not going to that thing you want me to go to.”  

I have forced myself to suit-up-and-show-up when I had absolutely no business doing so.  And then I paid the price with a physical and emotional crash in the days that followed.  

That’s not being a hero.  That’s being ridiculous.

So save your brave heroics and any holiday stress for another day, and instead ask the people who love you to save you a plate of food from the party.  Put on your favorite jammies, curl up in bed with the best coffee and movies you love, and let this be a day you live in gratitude for quiet and stillness.  Plans can look different.  It's just one day, one meal, one tradition. So it’s okay to do something that goes against the norm.  Breaking the status quo generally makes people really uncomfortable but it doesn’t mean you’re disrespecting them.  It means you’re respecting yourself.   

HP, and may you have the most blessed and heart-filling holiday week,

PS: Is your shopping list giving you holiday stress?  I can help!Joy Comes in the Mourning is coming TO THIS SITE in just a few short days, in perfect time for the holidays!  It's a book that contains light and hope for every person, grieving or not, and it's small enough to tuck inside a stocking on Christmas morning.  The first 500 copies contain some sweet surprises!  More details to come!  For a quick peek at the backstory, and the "why" behind the book, click here.

sleeping baby | 9 month old baby | bouncing back after having a baby at 35
Jul 05

9 months out: bouncing back at thirty-something

By Jessica Allen | Family , Life

All I ever wanted was to be a mom.

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

The myth of bouncing back

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

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

I am tired. 

I loathe that phrase, I really do.

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

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

And I think that’s okay.

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

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

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

Mental work

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isn’t that better than bouncing back?

HP,

J

Elisha: 9 months out

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

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

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

Memory Lane

By Jessica Allen | Family

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

A blast from the past

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why does smell trigger memory?

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

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

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

HP,

J

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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
how to get your kids to do chores|chores checklist|chores scavenger hunt
Apr 09

How to get your kids to do chores with a family chore scavenger hunt

By Jessica Allen | Family

How do I get my kids to do chores?  This is actually the follow up question to my standing Monday morning lament: how did our house get this wrecked?

Click here to skip right to the Scavenger Hunt Checklist.

There’s so much come-and-go over the weekend that by the time the kids head to school on Monday, I feel totally overwhelmed by the mess.  Nobody intentionally trashed the place, but it’s the little things that pile up… socks that the dog grabbed out of the hamper (they’re his favorite), dolly accessories that never made it back into the dollhouse, baby toys, coffee cups, you get the idea. 

Our pool is the perfect “GERONIMOOOOOOO” distance away from our back door so we do a lot of skinny dipping (the KIDS!). That tends to make the backyard a war zone of discarded clothes and shoes too.  Add to that the dog toys, a garage full of baseball gear, and a kitchen full of the evidence of 2 thriving home offices… no matter where you look, you won’t find calm or order. 

Humans don’t do well in disorganization.  Our family is no different. 

We’ll never be “clear countertop” people, it’s just not how we’re wired.  But I want my children to understand that their home and personal space is their responsibility to care for, and we are to be good stewards of the material possessions we’re blessed to have.

And most importantly….

I don’t want to spend my precious time picking up their stuff. 

Sure, it’s easier to set a 10-minute timer to blow through clearing the mess before I start my day.  But I fight that instinct hard.  It’s NOT MY RESPONSIBILITY to clean up after them.  Am I singing the mom anthem right?  “How do I get my kids to do their chores?!” “Pick up this mess!”  “NO I DON’T KNOW WHERE YOUR STUFF IS!”  One more time, from the top!

But I don’t LIKE that song.  (I stomped my foot when I said that.)  Mostly because I don’t like the version of myself I become when I start singing it.

Chores are honest work, so make them rewarding

You see, I can incentivize just about anything for my children – they love prizes, games, experiences, and SURPRISES.  There is not a single task I take on if I don’t like doing it – I prize it out.  We don’t operate on an allowance system so if they want to earn money, they have to seek out opportunities to earn it.  And that opportunity is usually dressed in overalls and looks like work!

My parents have been great about this too – they’ll call to offer brother a $5 job at his convenience, and even create a contract they sign and shake on.  Cool life skills in the works here.  G is less eager to scoop up big jobs unless and until there’s something really cool she wants to earn.  She’s walked the dog 3 weeks straight to earn a mermaid tail.  I’ll gladly make that trade!

Now don’t get me wrong – we do our fair share of nagging and consequences.  Our home is normal just like yours and our kids do not like pausing their play to clean up.  But we’ve figured out that adding a little Mary Poppins fun is how to get our kids to do chores.

How to make a Chores Scavenger Hunt

Pick your prizes

I like to keep a stash of good prizes hidden in the house so I can throw out a contest whenever we need one. Our house favorites are glow sticks, chalk, smelly pencils, wacky stickers, bouncy balls, box candy, crazy socks, card games, party favors, goggles, lego miniatures, keychains for their backpacks, etc. Hit the dollar store or Target the next time you're in the area and stock up on little things that you know your kids love. You don't have to spend a ton of money to surprise and delight them with a cool prize! Think "school classroom treasure chest."

For this Scavenger Hunt, I picked prizes that looked big but were still $1. They were a huge hit: sidewalk chalk that looks like easter eggs and Big League Chew that came in a baseball. DO NOT TELL THEM WHAT THE PRIZE IS before the hunt!! The surprise at the end is half the fun!

Create your list

Yesterday morning’s clutter was particularly distracting.  It’s frustrating to start the week out in squalor.  But instead of spending my time cleaning it all up, I sat down at my computer and typed out a list. 

What needed to get done, and what did I need help with myself?  Oy.  The list kept going. 

I added the essential chores first, snuck in a couple bigger jobs that I knew I could trust them with, tucked the paper onto clipboards, and added a marker.  I told them I had a surprise for them after school so they thought about it all day long.  And then when we walked in the door that afternoon, I grabbed the clipboards and gave my best Academy Award winning performance.

Sell the idea

Today we are having a Scavenger Hunt!  This is not a race and there is no time limit.  You can check these off in any order.  I will approve your list before you are done.  There is no penalty if you missed something, but you will have to go back and complete it to my liking.  No trading lists!  And ask for help if you need it.  Ready, set, GO!

And they were off.  They called out their strategy to me and to each other while they worked (I’m going to do the downstairs things first and then the upstairs!  I’m going to find all the dirty clothes first!). 

Prizes: it's all in the presentation

Brother finished first and brought his list in proudly.  I did a quick glance around to make sure he completed the game with quality work and then we presented his prize ($1 sidewalk chalk eggs and Big League Chew) like it was a $1,000,000 check. 

Jack had him close his eyes and hold out his hands.  He proudly presented him with… a plate.  As a joke.  Brother thought it was hilarious.  Jack had him close his eyes again while he was giggling his guts out and then showman-style handed him his real prize.  Brother opened his eyes and squealed, “Chalk!!”  He was so excited.  Over sidewalk chalk.  (You know what your kids like.  The prize doesn’t matter.  It’s how you sell it!  The surprise and the excitement is half the fun anyway!  Don’t miss an opportunity to make their faces light up.)

G took a little longer, and needed a lot more “do-overs.”  The whole entire point of this game is to get them to do the tasks themselves so I had to fight my instinct to grab the extra dropped sock and sloppy-folded blanket.  “You’re so close, fix those couple things and then it’s prize time!”  Instead of nagging, I sang in my best bad opera voice: “Ooops, you missed one!”  (Do anything with a funny voice and it takes the edge off.)

My bathtub was stained blue from how dusty she was when she came inside last night after decorating the driveway with her chalk.  I didn’t even care that she colored herself.  And I gladly cleaned the bathtub myself. 

What's the secret?

MAKE YOUR KIDS HAPPY.  It’s so unbelievably easy to do.  With the right motivation, encouragement and excitement, and a little bit of smoke in mirrors, you can get them to do just about anything you want them to do and they will think you are the Best Mommy Ever.

How do you get your kids to do chores all the time?

This idea might be best as a once-a-month surprise, I think.  Any more often and it loses its luster.  The magic was that the list was long and we made it a fun challenge.  That being said, at dinner they actually asked if we could do this every Monday (HUGE WIN!) so I will try it again next week and update you on how it goes. 

A big blitz like this is great, but how do you get your kids to do chores on a smaller scale, and on a regular basis?  You can still make it fun.  We’ve done:

  • a chart for stickers
  • “pick your own” cleanup task for a Hot Wheels prize
  • 10-item-pickup while Mommy makes milkshakes. This is an EASY and effective one – each child chooses 10 items to pick up and put away as fast as they can. Or, you can even say out of the blue: Pick a number between 10 and 20! Then they have to pick up whatever number of items they selected.
  • first one finished putting clothes away chooses a game to play or movie to watch, etc.

Just get creative.  There’s no way you can spoil them here because they are working for you.  This is a good lesson for life, yes?  He who does quality work earns a quality reward.

How to get your kids to do chores|chores checklist|chores scavenger hunt

Click here to get the Scavenger Hunt Checklist emailed to you.  If you choose to stay on my Happy Mail list, you’ll get a tip like this once a week – sometimes it’s kid stuff, marriage stuff, or personal development.  You can always unsubscribe if it’s not your jam!  And I will never ever spam you (gross) or share your email address with anyone else (creepy). 

This Scavenger Hunt Checklist is an editable document, so you can add/delete/adjust the tasks as you see fit.  Trust your kids to complete these items, even if it’s not the way you would do it, or quite to your standard.  They are learning to be good stewards of their home and belongings.  You are teaching them to be obedient.  This is training them to see the mess and do something about it.  It is empowering them to complete chores that they are capable of doing themselves.  It is showing them that they are a vital part of keeping a peacefully ordered home.  And simply put: it will help you get your kids to do chores without losing your mind.

Grownup Scavenger Hunt

After I posted this on social media yesterday, a friend asked where my husband’s list was.  This is all I’m going to say about that: you know better than anyone what motivates and pleasantly surprises your spouse. 😉  Everyone likes to be rewarded for doing a great job!!!!!

Let me know if you try this to get your kids to do chores, if it works, if you have a task to add to the list that I forgot, or if you have questions.  Post on your own social media pages and our Facebook Page (Heartfully Present) with #familychoresscavengerhunt and we’ll celebrate your clean house and preserved sanity with you!

HP,

J

PS: Have you subscribed for Happy Mail? You'll get a family tip or marriage/personal development idea once a week in your inbox, just from me to you. <3

How to get your kids to do chores|chores checklist|chores scavenger hunt
5 Things to Remember When the News is Scary|Bad News|Scary News|Responding to Current Events
Feb 18

5 things to remember when the news is scary

By Jessica Allen | Family , Life

The news feels scary these days.  If it’s not the actual current events and politics, it’s the fire people are spitting at each other because of it. 

It’s daunting to even express an opinion for fear of being berated… or humiliated… for having a decided thought on the matter.

Simply offering an educated opinion is an open invitation for a fight.

So I venture to guess that most of us read and learn enough to educate ourselves, share our thoughts with a few close and trusted people, and don’t stick our necks out more than that.  We watch the most venomous of our friends spout off on social media, sharing commentaries and videos that support their beliefs (which of course they have every right to do).  If their opinion matches ours, we feel justified.  If it opposes our view, we feel confused, or angry, or offended, or outraged. 

Ironically, in all of this outrage, I have a sneaking suspicion that most people aren’t actually doing anything at all to make a change, or support those who are making changes. 

Really, I imagine most of us don’t really know what to do.  So we read, we scroll, we rage, and we repeat.  Same story, different day. 

The amount of outrage in my newsfeed before 8AM is staggering.  So much that I had to start protecting myself from it. 

Get informed and educated

What I love most about the internet is the fun – goofy animal videos, stupid human tricks, silly memes, music parodies, red carpet fashion, and weird news.  There is GOLD out there if you’re willing to take a break from the tragic headlines screaming for your attention.  Here’s a fun and free bonus just for reading today: this is my never-fails go-to if I ever feel sad.

Once the child in me is satisfied with funny cats and Oscar gowns, my grown-up self reads the real stuff.  Just enough to know what’s happening, from sources as neutral as I can find, which is almost impossible these days.  At the very least, I’ll try to find both sides of the story.  There are a very select few wise leaders I look to, simply to see their perspective on the issue.  Sometimes they approach things with a wisdom and viewpoint I haven’t considered, or shine a light on it in a different way.  Even if I disagree with their thoughts, I feel better knowing that I’ve researched the issue with maturity and wisdom rather than blindly trusting a news source, or worse, someone spouting off on social media.

Remember: this ain’t our first rodeo

It’s important to remember that the human race has been mucking things up since the dawn of time in the Garden of Eden.  What we do today absolutely matters but we will still go on, stumbling forward in spite of our flawed humanity, for generations to come.  In the grand scheme of things, the outrageous news we read this morning is just a drop in the bucket.  So we can spend our energy wailing in despair and blaming people for how messed up it all is, or we can make an intentional positive contribution to our corner of the world in this spot on history’s time line.

Look for the helpers

Fred Rogers always said to look for the helpers.  Who is helping the world?  Not just in the areas of the current news outrage but also in unlikely ways that are making a difference.  Look for the people helping.  It’s really that simple. 

Because even when the world is in chaos, remarkable people are still doing remarkable work. 

Dial into those people. 

This is why I love listening to podcasts and reading biographies.  When you do a little research and just keep your ears open, you will stumble upon some of the most remarkable people.  Their lives are an inspiration because they are real people with real problems just like us.  They saw a need in the world and rather than saying “someone should do something about that,” they chose to be the someone. 

Your mind will believe what you feed it.  If your input is doom, gloom, and outrage, your brain will begin to crave it.  It’s the same dopamine hit that can create addiction. 

Instead, feed your mind the good stuff.  If there’s an issue that’s upsetting to you, find some trusted people on both sides of the fence that you can learn from.  

What fields are interesting to you?  Here’s a starting list of great biographies of amazing figures in politics, environmental issues, arts, theology, civil rights, business, etc.  Find an expert or notable name in the field and learn about them.  What motivates them, inspires them, drives them to achieve?  I promise you will find the same colored threads in yourself too. 

Seek out remarkable people

The easiest way to remind yourself of your faith in humanity is to highlight and thank someone remarkable in your own sphere.  What unsung hero would be blessed by your acknowledgement?  Is there a shining quality could you affirm in one of your child’s teachers or coaches?  When was the last time you called your mom or dad?  Grab an index card or a piece of printer paper (it doesn’t have to be fancy) and write them a note of gratitude. 

No matter what the news says, it really is all going to be okay

Everything will be okay in the end.  If it’s not okay, then it’s not the end.

John Lennon

My dad loves old westerns because the bad guys always lose, and the good guys always win.  That is a comforting idea for a kid.  And I think it’s even more comforting for grownups.

So be one of the good guys.  Because, spoiler alert: in Real Life, the good guys win in the end. 

There is so much bad in the world. But there is also so much good. It all comes down to how you want to look at it. Not with your head buried in the sand! Educate yourself, protect your mind, keep doing good work, and remember that it’s all going to be okay. If there’s an issue or cause that’s especially important to you, get involved. Action cures fear, and there’s no better way to make a difference than to put your own feet on the ground in support of something meaningful.

But you don’t have to go far to make a difference. Mother Theresa said, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.”

Love people well. That’s how the good guys win.

And that’s how you drown out the noise of the scary stuff on the news too. Just keep loving people well. Because no matter what happens here on this planet, God’s bigger than all of it, and He knows how it’s all going to finish.  Our job is simply to trust Him, do faithful work in His name, and be the “someone” making an impact for good.

HP,

Comment below: what current event issue is stressing you out? (ABSOLUTELY NO BANTER OR BASHING ALLOWED HERE.)

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marriage and family mission statement
Feb 07

Create your Marriage and Family Mission Statement

By Jessica Allen | Family , Marriage

If you’re aiming for nothing, you’ll hit it – every time.

We set goals for our work, our weight, our grades, our money, and our parenting every day. So why don’t we set meaningful goals for our marriages and families themselves?

Because these aren’t the most tangible goals, most of the time. We can say “I want a better marriage,” but what does that even mean? What do you want to make better?

When we’re strong and united, and willing to be used for God’s purpose, our marriages and families will shape the next generation, and the one after that. This stuff matters!

So what better motivation to create a Marriage and Family Mission Statement?!

This sounds like a daunting task but it’s easy and fun.  And it will change the way you live your life.  When you have a mission statement, it gives you a target to aim for.  It gives you a standard by which to measure your progress.  It gives you a framework for how to treat one another, and a way to get back on track if things stray off the path.  A mission statement can become a code of ethics for children and teens.  And it WILL become a source of pride, identity, and belonging for every member of your family. 

I challenge you to make this a fun family date night activity.  I’ve included a free printable guide HERE.  The instructions are right there on the page. Print a copy for each member of your family – even children can understand and participate!  Ours are 9 and 7 and love taking ownership over their ideas and wishes.  The newborn gets a free pass but what we decide together as a family will benefit his whole life too! 

You’ll arrive at some values of great depth – like faith, community impact, service, and honesty – and you’ll arrive at some ideas that are just sweet and fun, like family breakfast for dinner night or morning coffee club (those are both ours). 

Everyone gets to contribute and everyone’s voice gets to be heard.  So definitely give the Family Mission Statement a whirl.  I think you’ll have fun with it. 

You can do this same exercise as a couple just for your marriage.  What matters most to each spouse?  What do you want to promise to each other? 

This would be a great opportunity to journal or brain dump.  What made you fall in love with your spouse?  What are the best parts of you that you offer your spouse?  What makes you unique as individuals and as a couple?  These are just a few ideas to get you started.

You don’t have to have a dramatic story to make a meaningful mission statement – you just have to have a powerful love story!  Which you do! 

Happy creating!

HP,

J

Do you know a couple or a family that would love this tool? Send them the link!

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.

Nov 19

Leaning Back

By Jessica Allen | Family , Life

I’m back. Well, I never really left, but life got a little wild. We’re all here and we’re all doing great with a new little baby in our home. But contrary to popular belief (delusion), we really can’t do it all. Not all at the same time and to our desired performance level, anyway.

If you’re bristling at that idea, come join me here on our recovery couch. Breathe in and breathe out.

Simone Biles is now the first American in history to medal in every event in her sport. Phenomenal. She’s inspiring to watch, a true master of her craft.

I am not Simone Biles.

God gave me different gifts, and a different purpose. I was not meant to push my physical limits as an athlete. I’m meant to fulfill my capacity as a battle-scarred faithful servant.

“Bouncing back” after having a baby was a lot easier 9 and even 7 years ago. I had the energy to tread water and keep my head just above the surface. Every extremity working in sync to keep myself from slipping under.

It’s different this time. Slower.

I recently read a piece on the idea of “leaning back.” Where we lean in to our top priorities, it’s not that we’re leaning out of others. Rather, we’re leaning back, choosing to refocus our time and efforts based on our perceived priorities and needs in the moment. Check out the full article here.

Every person gets our own choice of priorities, judgment-free. That means we even have freedom from self-judgment, which is the harshest punishment we can inflict on ourselves. Our priorities can shift in an instant, whether spurred on by a major life event or milestone or because we simply make a decision to redirect them.

You were given a mind so you could make it up – and change it too.

So for the last 6 weeks I’ve leaned back from many of the hats I like to wear, and I’m leaning into this new season, which has brought new life in many ways. There’s a tiny human completely dependent upon us for survival. So there’s that. But this new baby life has waved in with it fresh perspective, candid lessons about my own physical and emotional capabilities, and the sweet warmth of our village wrapping us up in their unshakable arms.

9 years ago, I am positive I did not embrace any of new-motherhood with the same slow, deep breath of gratitude. At this third (fourth) time around the baby block, at an older stage of my life, it just looks a lot different.   Asking for and accepting help feels a little easier. Mostly, probably, because I’m trying to learn the art of unceremoniously waving my ego out the back door. I am not good at this yet. But I am learning. I don’t have to do it all. Not just because my body and strength have limitations (there, I admit it), but because I am coming to realize I don’t need to wave around a trophy or gold star sticker chart to prove my worth. To myself or anyone else.

Perhaps if I repeat that 100 times daily I will begin to fully believe and accept it.

Harry Truman said “it is amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.” This is super hard for me to embrace. You see, I want all the credit. Honest. I actually remember shrieking at someone several years ago who solved a problem the exact way I had tried to solve it and failed: Why do YOU get to be the hero?   She looked at me like I had lost my mind. Pardon me, my narcissism is showing. I want the credit for brains, beauty, thoughtfulness, cooking, getting my body back, professional success, spirituality, parenting, my marriage, and my impeccable hold-it-all-together-ness. That’s not too much to ask, right?

The truth is, nobody is that superhuman. Even the most remarkable humans have a secret – either some of those things are outsourced, or abandoned altogether, or more likely they’ve become experts at boundaries and expectations.

In that case, then we all really do wear superhero capes. So can we just agree to acknowledge that they have some freeing fine print on the tags? Wonder Woman (took a nap instead of folding laundry)! Supergal (aided by her nanny and housekeeper)! Amazelady (put the kids in front of a movie so she can exercise)! Fantastigirl (orders takeout and hates Pinterest)!

What is most important to you? List your top 3 priorities (ex. family, service, professional success, creativity, leadership, fitness, friendships, a hobby or pastime, etc.) and evaluate the way you’re spending your time and energy and finances in relation to those priorities. Bonus points if you list your actual top 3 priorities and not the ones you think everyone around you will approve of or be impressed by.

Because we’re all killing it, you and me. Drop the self-judgment, buy your balance, delegate the lesser priorities, and let the little things go. Unencumbered self-love is a lot more fun. And it keeps wrinkles and migraines at bay.

If I am a success at anything, it is completely because of my amazing collection of people who love and care for me in spite of myself. And yes, it doesn’t matter who gets the credit. But because credit is due, giant claps to my sister and mom for prepping weeks’ worth of slow-cooker meals (that were delicious and healthy), grandparents and aunts and uncles for fun outings for the big kids while we hibernated with little-bitty brother, neighbors for watching our house and dog, friends for checking in on me – like ME as a human being, and our church community for providing meals and love and covering our leadership roles while we’re out. My husband has freed my hands and head and heart in every way so I can simply love our little people.

Having this new baby in our home has been a whole different experience this time around.  I’m so grateful for the sweet peace he’s brought us.  I could write an entire trite essay on savoring the moments because they pass so quickly, and how a messy home means it’s filled with love and all those other things people say about having a baby. But mostly it’s just been the loveliest season of pausing and hibernating and living in this exact moment. Not worrying about even the very next moment that’s coming. Because I will be present in that exact moment too when it arrives.

So rather than treading water all by myself, breathing hard to keep my head just above the surface, I’ve decided to lean back and just float, grateful for the support of every gentle wave underneath me.

HP,

J

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