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Category Archives for "Family"

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

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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

Blame
Jul 20

The Blame Game: Nobody Wins

By Jessica Allen | Family , Marriage

They were just BLTs for goodness’ sake.

I talked them up all day to my little people. And they were excited to eat them for dinner for the first time. They even knew what the letters stood for.

So at 6:30 I had assembled their perfectly toasty crustless sandwiches, and my 7 year old asks, “what does the L mean again?”

Mayday, mayday.

I said “lettuce” as breezily as I could (which I realize totally negates the breezy) and as if I were looking into my crystal ball to predict the future, I waited and watched him cloud over like a super villain. Then his sister jumped on his evil bandwagon, even though she loves and regularly eats “L” and “T.”

You can go ahead and write for yourself the rest of the all-too-familiar epic food battle between parents and children. Short version: they didn’t eat the sandwiches, tried to negotiate a different dinner out of us, pitched a fit because they didn’t get one (or dessert either), started a filibuster on why mayonnaise is grossssss, we all snapped at each other into the bathtub, and they went to bed without eating anything at all. We did snuggle and read, and offered up apologies to each other, and nobody went to sleep sad. That’s important to me no matter how long it takes.

But this was not our finest family hour.

How often do we agree to something cheerfully and then change our tune once we’re in it?

How often do we try to make our frustration somebody else’s fault?

Granted, he’s 7, and still learning that his parents aren’t the enemy. I hear this is harder when they are 15.

But it made me think about how often I pitch my own grown-up fit when things don’t quite go my way. Isn’t it easier when it’s somebody else’s fault? Isn’t it way more satisfying to blame somebody or something for my discomfort than to check my own behavior?

Laying blame sure feels great in the moment. But when I really get honest with myself, I’m working really hard behind the scenes to invent things that they said or did (or didn’t say or didn’t do) to be able to place blame on them instead of myself. It may not be a mayonnaise filibuster, but I’ll unashamedly admit that I’ve gone to work painting some pretty cruel pictures of people in my mind – or even worse, verbally to someone else.

Not only is that unkind, unproductive, and a waste of time, it’s toxic energy in my mind and out in the universe. Not cool.

Blame strategies

Things can escalate quickly in our house. I am married to an “escalator” which means a minor disagreement can go to DEFCON 5 in 10 seconds or less. I am an “avoider” which means there’s little standing in his way to get there. Great combination, huh?

In our most infamous family battle, the kids lost trick-or-treating forever. In that moment I had to literally run around the corner to keep from laughing out loud and destroying my husband’s parenting foot-down. United we stand… together we fall. We still joke about it when one of us gets bent out of shape – NO TRICK OR TREATING FOR YOU!!!

In similar fashion, last night in the final stages of The Battle of the BLTs he came in with his electric screwdriver threatening to take their bunk beds apart. This was their proudest earned privilege of late so it definitely caught their attention. While this crazy is happening, I’m trying to wash a child’s hair and rationally explain why he might want to offer an apology for his behavior and the way he spoke to his daddy.  All the while I’m turned to the wall trying desperately to tell my face not to ruin the moment.

I can hear you silently judging our madness and that’s okay. It all worked out just fine. May all your family skirmishes be solved diplomatically and with no disassembly required.

My whole point here is that some of us face the battle head-on. Right in the open, with spoken words or trick or treating or screwdrivers.

Some of us internalize the battle instead.

I think the second one’s worse.

If you’re a stew-er like me, you know exactly what I’m talking about. We keep throwing poisonous mushrooms into our witches’ brew of blame and before we know it, we’ve completely justified to ourselves why that other person is completely at fault.  And poof!  Our potion is ready for hexing.

It’s a great way to pass (rather, waste) time. It’s also a great way to ultimately feel worse about yourself. We never feel good when we’re tearing someone apart. No matter how awfully they treated us or how deeply they hurt us.  Blame is a powerful weapon that makes us feel strong and gives us leverage up on someone else.  It’s our primitive Ego that feels good when we’ve marginalized another person.  (And this is a huge root cause of so many of our social prejudices and injustices.)

Some things that help us drop the blame game are grace and forgiveness, and a humble understanding that we might never receive an apology or closure for whatever happened. Freedom from hurt is completely within our own control.

Forgiveness really is the gift you give yourself. It’s the only way to release yourself from the grip of hurt and disappointment, stop throwing poisonous mushrooms into the pot, and move forward. Nobody really wants to drink the witches brew anyway – it gives you warts.

So the next time you want to disassemble a bunk bed, or fire up your cauldron, step back and gain a little perspective. Drop the blame game and consider: What could you have done differently? How could you have approached it more kindly? When might it be appropriate to circle back, own your stuff, and make it right? You’ll feel better, I promise.

And while you’re thinking that through, you might even calm down and make yourself a BLT. (The mayo really is the best part.)

HP,

J

Penny for your thoughts:
Was there a time in your marriage/family that blame took root and festered?  How do you personally keep blame out of your mind and spirit?

teach my chilren
Jun 01

LEGACY SERIES Part 3: What I Really Want to Teach My Children

By Jessica Allen | Family , Life

What do I really want to teach my children?

One of the kids’ favorite morning cartoons tossed out the phrase “have courage” to an army of squirrels.

I had my back to the TV trying to put shoes on their feet and asked my two sleepyheads, what do you think it really means to have courage?

Without a pause, brother said, being kind. (G was still in a fog.)

It caught me so off guard that I said a silent prayer of thanks for whomever taught him that and then thought about what MY answer would be.

I arrived at a simple statement: Courage is making the right decisions even when they are hard. I got a nod from brother and a thumbs-up from G. Who knows if it stuck for them? It doesn’t even really matter though, because it stuck for me.

Teachable moment for (myself) today: CHECK. Today I will make the right decisions even when they are hard.  Maybe by living this daily I can teach my children to do it too.

So many of these little moments – life lesson moments – are found in the quiet quick places. If I blink, I miss them. This is one of my biggest inspirations behind this writing adventure, the practice of becoming heartfully present. Stepping away from the noise and pull of a world that tries to convince me that I need to be more than I am. Opening my eyes and heart to living well, right here. Modeling this for my children, who I hope will catch it young and let it serve them through their wild and precious lives.

Because these little people are not our own. We just get to borrow them for a little while, give them all the heart we can, and send them out to make a difference for God and for people in the world. Their smarts can be trained (thank you teachers!), skills can be practiced (thank you coaches!), but character only grows with constant attention to bloody knees, sweaty hard work, and tears of victory and defeat. And a whole lot of prayer through it all.

This is the beauty of moms and dads, and grandparents, and mentors too. We get to be the ministers of all this magic.

So in the quiet moments where I am bandaging those bloody knees, and wiping those brows, and drying those tears, what do I really want to teach my children?

I want to teach my children: to love God and love each other

Remember whose you are

You are so supremely loved by God, your parents, your family, and your friends. People will come in and out of your life.  They will tell you things about yourself. Some are true and some are not. Remember whose you really are. You have supreme worth.  Be real and stand tall.  When the world tries to teach you that your real worth is in your status, your place on the scoreboard, your clothes, money, car, or assets, your looks, or your friends, I want to teach my children to come back to this place right here and remind yourself who and whose you really are.

Invest in the most important relationships

God, your parents, your spouse, and your inner circle of friends and mentors. Lean into these people who speak truth to you, truth about who you are and who you are becoming. When they hurt you, say the hard words and do the hard courageous things to make it right. If you can’t, love them anyway. Time is the most precious gift you have and can give. Make time for these special people. Learn to speak their love languages and make it a point to reach out and care for them well.

Serve who you can, where you can, however you can, with whatever you can

Your gifts are uniquely yours, designed in you to be used for good, for God, and for His kingdom. Staying comfortable in your castle is not what you’re meant for. Stretch and grow and extend and give to people who need your love. No service, large or small, is insignificant in God’s eyes. You won’t receive recognition for most of it. Serve anyway.

Forgive and give the best of yourself to others

Getting hurt will make you want to hide and close off the best parts of yourself to the people you love. This will only break your heart, and theirs too. Choose to forgive, to move forward, and continue to offer what’s lovely in you, expecting to receive what’s lovely in them. (“Namaste” translates to: the light in me honors the light in you. The yogis have it figured out.)

I want to teach my children: protect your heart and grow your mind

Read and listen well

The more you learn, the better you will become. Take the time to read good books of all genres.  Read what you like.  If it bores you, put it away.  If you love it, read it and mark it up, and then give it away.  It will give you such joy to spread what you love and learn to other people.  Listen to God.  He will speak to you in strange and quiet ways, but only when you are willing to be still and let Him.  And listen to that still small voice in you. It knows you better than your brain does and will steer you right.

Surround yourself with great people

You will learn from them too. Smart people, wise speakers, compassionate servants, quirky neighbors, funny friends, creative experts, people rooted in faith and strong ethics you admire.  Since you become like the five people you spend the most time with, choose them with care.

Stay rooted in your beliefs

When you know what your beliefs are, it will be easier to stay on course. It will feel easier to stand your ground in tough situations. It will be easier to find your tribe of people who can encourage you in those beliefs. And funny enough, it will be easier to enjoy community with people who do not share your beliefs. When you stand firm in what you believe, you can listen with love and desire to learn instead of lashing out in heated debate to “win” your side of the argument.

I want to teach my children: your life is up to you

Break out of the box

Just because it’s done a certain way doesn’t mean you must do it that way. There are infinite ways to live your life. Want a corporate job? Interview on. Want to make weird art in a city studio? Create on. Want to start your own business? Entrepreneur on. Want a life in academia or education?  Study on.  Want to enter into the ministry, military, non-profit realm, or your own home? Serve on. Everyone gets their chance to choose their life and so do you.  The people will love you no matter what you do, because we love you for who you are.

There’s no “ordinary” in you

Your lives began in the most unconventional, extravagant ways, and there’s no reason the rest of your lives won’t be just as extraordinary.  Don’t be afraid to break the mold. You were made for it, anyway.

Never settle

The only limit on you is the one you place on yourself. “Good enough” is fantastic when you need to give yourself grace, but it is never enough for your amazing life. Jesus came that you might have life, and have it abundantly. Don’t waste a moment of it on pursuits that don’t set your spirit on fire. Ironically, all of the pursuits that will set your heart ablaze come with heartache, disappointment, doubt, and frustration. Work through it. There is absolute glory on the other side of it, and a version of you who you never imagined could exist. To quote Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own: It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.

What I want to teach my children is that the world is theirs… and that my world is full of their magic.

Make it amazing, dear ones. I will love watching you soar.

HP,

Mommy