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Category Archives for "Grief"

Sep 18

On Grief: loose ends and closing chapters

By Jessica Allen | Grief

It takes time to tie the loose ends of grief. I am no stranger to this fact but I don't have to like it.

A wise woman said to me today: you know you’re grieving, right?

I responded not-as-wisely: I KNOW AND IT SUCKS AND I HATE IT. (as I cried into a cup of coffee and wiped my nose with the hem of my shirt).

Closing chapters is griefy for me.  I think it’s griefy for everybody, actually. But there’s something about my personal wiring and my own precarious peace-treaty with death that makes chapter-closing especially hard.  

It’s not that I’m afraid.  I’ve done enough searching on this to know it’s not fear that holds me back.  

Rather, it’s hard for me to understand how to hold dearly to what was while moving through what is and marching bravely into what is still to come.

What was is miraculous and beautiful. No amount of what happened next or what is now or what is still to come can change the significance or weight or dearness that what was means to me. With its living fibers woven into my mind and heart, what was is such an integral part of me that I can’t ignore it. Because minimizing or negating it would be severing myself from myself. I can’t unlive my life, or unform a friendship, or unbecome who I am, or unknow what I know to be true. I can’t pretend it didn’t happen, or that it wasn’t impactful, or that its loss doesn’t sometimes make me twinge in sadness.

But when I hold onto what was without putting it into proper perspective, it’s difficult to be present for what is and absolutely impossible to move forward into what is still to come. Too many loose ends trip me up and snare my steps.

I don’t have any answers for this one, other than continued work and prayer. But if you’re a holder-onner like me, know that your messy loose ends are worth exploring. Not all of them will get tied, and we all have to get okay with that. Others of them will get tied in ways that bring peaceful closure, which is a gift. And still more of them will get tied in ways that hurt you or the people you care about, because life is messy, and the only person you can control is yourself. (Even that is a toss-up sometimes.)

We each get to choose which ends we tie up. It’s the only way we can successfully close chapters.

Even at that, you can see that the not-so-subtle imagery here suggests I’m not even going to commit to closing a whole book. I am willing, however, to entertain the idea of turning one page to close a chapter.  Today I’m willing, anyway. Ask me tomorrow and you might get a different answer.

Are you a cutter-offer, or a holder-onner? What helps you tie up your loose ends and close chapters?

HP,

  J 

I can honor what was while being present for what is and marching forward into what is still to come | black script on white background | loose ends of grief
Everything happens for a reason | and other unhelpful things we say to people who are hurting | white background, black text, teal broken arrow
Aug 18

Everything happens for a reason

By Jessica Allen | Grief

If I had a nickel for every time someone told me (or I told someone) everything happens for a reason… I’d be able to throw a giant bag of nickels through the hole I just punched in the wall.

On the chance that you’re new here, I have a son who lives in the great beyond.  Nobody asked, but I’ll tell you anyway that my vision of heaven is a place filled with soft, warm light, and no more pain, and Jesus snuggles and reads books to my little boy until I can get there myself.  Then we’ll sip coffee that is always the perfect hot, piled on top of each other in the coziest overstuffed chair, and we’ll never wonder about anything achy ever again because inside that beautiful eternity we will have come to learn everything we need to know – and nothing we don’t.  There’s nothing there but love.

I think about heaven just enough to keep my feet moving down here on planet earth. 

Because down here, grief is still a b****.  And just when you think you’ve trained the beast, it gets off leash and starts eating out of the trash, making a tremendously inconvenient mess that you have to clean up again.  And you’re mad at the animal, but not really.  Because its presence and companionship are part of the person you love and lost, and part of who you are too, mess and all. 

Lists

In my book I wrote two lists.  Well, I actually wrote a lot of lists.  But the two I’m talking about here are the lists of “things to say and do to help a person in grief” and “Things Not to Ever Say or Do to a Person in Grief.”

Both lists are equally important.  Humans are quirky creatures – we inherently want to help the people we love who are struggling, often so desperately that we end up hurting them instead in the subconscious process of trying to alleviate our own pain and discomfort. 

“But I’d never want to hurt someone who’s already hurting!” you say. 

Me either.

But I’ve been guilty of my fair share of Saying Stupid Things.  Mostly because I felt like I needed to be profound or inspirational.  Or because silence made me uncomfortable.  Or because it hurt me too much to sit with someone’s pain.

Notice the common factor: me

Me, me, me.  It’s rare that many of our well-intended words have anything to do with the other person.  We’re usually too wrapped up in our own itchy discomfort to pause long enough to ask: what does my hurting friend really need? 

If you can’t say something nice…

I wish I had known earlier in my life that compassionate, silent presence is often the most comforting gift of all to someone in pain.    

Whatever your person is going through, it's swinging through their life like a wrecking ball.  And there is likely nothing you could offer that will fix it, solve it, soothe it, or make it go away.  As a general rule, if you wouldn’t write it in a sympathy card, or include it in a public eulogy, don’t say it with your out loud voice to someone who’s hurting. 

Why we want to say “everything happens for a reason”

“Everything happens for a reason” seems to be the most popular go-to phrase we set on the table accompanied by flowers or a casserole. 

If you really want to dig into why this is problematic (not only in grief but for spirituality in general), and something better to say instead, haste ye to getjoy.shop and get yourself a copy of Joy Comes in the Mourning.  It’s heavy but short; you can read it in an afternoon. 

In the meantime, here’s the cliff notes version.  Your person (or you, for that matter) may actually believe this everything-happens-for-a-reason concept, whether it's rooted in faith or not.  But you can't force-feed it to them when they're suffering. 

We say everything happens for a reason to quell our own feelings of fear, discomfort, and uncertainty.  Yet truthfully, it doesn’t really help us that much either.  So we may as well just stop saying it.  

Incidentally, we’ve got a lot of fear, pain, uncertainty, and grief swirling around in the world right now disguised as job loss, financial strain, health worries, homeschooling, empty toilet paper shelves, election tension, social media scrolling, and Netflix binge-watching.  I bet if you asked ten of your friends to be honest about their current general anxiety level, they’d all tell you it’s heightened in 2020 simply because of how uncertain the future of anything feels.

Life is uncertain, and scary and beautiful and completely unpredictable.  This uncertainty makes our control-freak human brains twitch.  We get uncomfortable and push the panic button and that’s when we start saying good-hearted but super-dumb things. 

But what if it's true that everything happens for a reason?

Here’s the twist: I am one of those annoying people who still DOES believe everything really does happen for a reason.  I believe true good and true evil are alive in the world.  I believe I was put on this planet at this moment in time for a distinct purpose, that you were too, and that God and the universe are working all things together for good for each of us.  

BUT.

It took me death, a near-divorce, and 11 years of therapy and solid grief work to bring me to the point where I have an evolving peace treaty with “everything happening for a reason.”  This means that some days I cling this belief for comfort, and some days I go back to thinking it’s utter and total bulls***. In order to come to a point of peace, I had to wrestle with everything from personal guilt to eternal spiritual questions, some of which were:

  • Did God cause this tragedy to happen?
  • If the devil caused it, why did God let it happen?
  • Does God even care?
  • Was any of it my fault?
  • Am I being punished?
  • What am I supposed to be learning?
  • What am I supposed to do with all this?
  • Am I going to be broken forever?
  • Does any of this even matter?

And more.  The passing of time doesn’t really make these questions (or their answers) any easier.  It just brings me new upgraded models of the original hamster wheel my mind incessantly spins around on inside.  (If you’re currently wrestling with these questions, let me encourage you that these questions are important to wrestle with.  Seek out a professional to help you stop the manic cycle and make some sense out of how you’re thinking and feeling.  Your physical/mental wellness and your spiritual health will thank you for it.)

A better encouragement than "everything happens for a reason"

Maybe the better way I came to frame “everything happens for a reason” is: there is meaning and purpose in all things.  I want to believe – I do believe - my life matters, my son’s life matters, and your life matters too.  We aren’t arbitrary cosmic space dust.  We’re divinely inspired creatures here to do the work that only we can do.  Not one human is an accident.  We’re all here on purpose.   

But frustratingly, you can’t see purpose from right where you are.  You can only see it when you zoom waaaayyyyyyyy out.  In the immediacy of pain and suffering, there is no purpose to be found.  And if you try to assign purpose to tragedy before you’ve found time and distance from it, you’ll most likely place blame on your own failure, or a vengeful god, or other self-destructive patterns of thought. 

In the fog of grief, I scrambled to immediately assign purpose to my son’s death.  That frenzied chase shaped the way I began to think, work, love, practice faith, and engage in relationships from that point forward.  Grasping for purpose and meaning of the loss of a child sent me (still sends me, when I’m not operating out of wellness) on a desperate goose-chase to find and assign significance and depth to every one of my experiences. 

An actual reason

We were given a unique, clear, and tangible reason for our son’s death: the adoption of our daughter.  I held onto that miracle, that definitive purpose, until its superpower ran out after about a year. 

Not surprisingly, when the feel-good water ran dry, all that remained in the bottom of my dusty riverbed was anger and pain that had quietly festered long enough to rot into infection.  I hurt even more then than I had in the beginning.  And I was even madder because I thought I had avoided all that pain altogether.  Grace (our daughter) or not, there was absolutely no reason a baby should die.  Ever.  

This topic is reserved for my first perfect hot coffee with God.

My point here is this: no amount of “purpose-driven life” can cancel the fact that tragedy happens and it hurts like a mother.  Tragedy can and tragedy does eventually transform into something meaningful, but it takes time, and intentional heart work to get better through the pain instead of bitter.  You can’t just wave the magic wand of “purpose” over pain and suffering and escape the process.  I know.  I tried.  You just make more messy work for yourself in the long run.

Which is why telling someone “everything happens for a reason” in the thick of their suffering is truly unhelpful.  Because:

  • They don’t have the perspective yet to see or understand anything good that could possibly come out of their situation, and,,,
  • It’s rushing them through the healing process.

I clung to the phrase myself after my son died, and when our marriage was falling apart, repeating it over and over every day like if I said it enough, it’d come true.  But I realize now in hindsight I was actually doing #2: rushing my own self through the process, trying to skip the pain.  Grief is a master teacher.  Unyielding.  I’d never wish away what I learned and who I am now because of it.  But again – you can’t tell someone that during their deepest grief, not even yourself.

Quick bonus advice

In addition to everything happens for a reason, DO NOT EVER tell someone “I understand” unless you have experienced the exact loss/pain they are experiencing.  Even then… it’s not the best choice of words.  It minimizes their experience and makes them feel small instead of seen, heard, and supported.

Here are some better, helpful, encouraging phrases to share instead (I've put them on a handy graphic down at the bottom):

  • I love you.
  • I’m so sorry.
  • I’m here with you.
  • I hear what you’re saying.
  • Would you like some company?
  • Can I bring you a (pizza/punching bag/box of plates)?

If you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything at all.  Silence really is okay.  But if you truly can’t stand the silence, just let them know you love them and you care.  If you’re live, in person, and you panic, just breathe and pray: God, give me the right words or none at all to be a blessing to my friend in this moment.

Bad things happen to good people.  It’s heartbreaking and frustrating, especially when those bad things feel senseless. 

You may never know the reason for the tragedy that befell you.  There might not even be a reason.  Maybe not everything happens for a reason… but you happened for a reason.  And you’re still here: a breathing, living soul.  Which means there’s still purpose for you.

Feathers on a breeze

One of my favorite lines from my favorite movies:

I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze.  But I think maybe it’s both.  Maybe both are happening at the same time.” -- Forrest Gump

I think Forrest had it right.  We’ll never understand the big picture until we’re looking at it from the other side – in that cozy overstuffed chair, filled with love and light.  Until then, there are questions we’ll never have answers to, and things we’ll never be able to fully explain or embrace. 

So rather than assigning “reason” to the events that befall us, what if we instead chose to trust and be faithful to the process?  I’m still here.  So are you.  Every breath is a new opportunity to leave a little dent in eternity for good. 

The world is swirling with grief right now, disguised as worry, job loss, financial strain, health concerns, distance learning, political tension, marriage strain, and about 100 other stressful things. 

For your people who are hurting, no matter the reason: call them today just to say hi.  Don’t try to fix them.  You can’t.  Just love them and let them know you’re not going to leave their side.  Do it on purpose. 

HP,

J <3

P.S.

No matter the cause of a person's pain, grief is grief, and loss is loss.  One person's pain isn't more (or less) painful or significant than another's.  If you know someone struggling with pain, grief, or loss, or someone who simply needs the comfort of a loving community, please invite them here.  If you choose to gift them a copy of my book, I'm happy to inscribe it with a personal word of encouragement. 

Say this not that | helpful words for people in pain instead of everything happens for a reason
MOTHER WARRIOR | MOTHERS DAY
May 09

Mother Warrior – a Mothers Day battle cry

By Jessica Allen | Faith , Family , Grief

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

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

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

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

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

Mothers losing their children isn’t about politics. 

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

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

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

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

What can I do?

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

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

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

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

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

I am a mother who lost her son.

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

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

Mothers Day

It’s no coincidence tomorrow is Mothers Day. 

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

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

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

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

I want my children to learn love.  No exceptions.

Because God is love, and God loves his children.

That’s all of us.  No exceptions.

Happy Mothers Day, loves.

HP,

J

Prayer | when the answer is no
May 07

Prayer: when the answer is no

By Jessica Allen | Faith , Grief

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

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

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

The irony is not lost on me.

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

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

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

Answers to prayer: yes, not yet, and no

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

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

But it never hurts as much as a no

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

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

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

The kind of no that changes your life forever.

When no changes the game

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

But the answer was no.

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

But that miracle did not come to pass.

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

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

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

God is God, and I am not

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

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

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

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

Deal breaker

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

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

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

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

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

When God says no, maybe it feels cruel. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learning from no

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

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

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

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

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

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

The power of prayer

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

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

I was wrong

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holy ground

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

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

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

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

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

And perhaps even, especially when the answer is no.

HP,

J

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

To dust we shall return

By Jessica Allen | Faith , Grief

I am no stranger to ashes.

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

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

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

Repentance

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

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

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

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

A simple Lenten practice 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HP, J <3

P.S. 

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

book launch | joy comes in the mourning | bonus thoughts on grief
Dec 10

Book launch, grief work, and thank you

By Jessica Allen | Grief

It’s been five days since the book launch and I think I have some organized words now. Or at least I have some words now.  Grief work is never through, even in the most joyful of celebrations.  

ICYMI, I released a book last week – a memoir, I suppose, although the easiest way to describe this has been “a grief book.”   It’s the true story of the birth and death of our first son and how his little magnificent life has underscored every step of mine ever since. 

I have always believed in LJ’s story, and in the message of hope it brings.  And I believe in that message of hope not just because it is a nice story (it is), but because it has brought me through the last ten years of my life.  Sometimes that experience has lit a very dark path.  Sometimes it has been the dark path itself.  But if I could boil what I’ve learned down to just one thing, it’s this: there is abundant life to be lived on the other side of grief. 

The other side of grief

“I realize now that there really isn’t an “other side.”  Rather, real people with real grief simply find a path moving forward and choose to walk it one step at a time.  Sometimes you can go quickly, sometimes it’s slow, and sometimes you have to sit down and rest.  Sometimes you get completely lost in the weeds.  Frustratingly, there’s no GPS for bereavement. Stopping to ask for directions, pausing to find your bearings, or even going in reverse for awhile, are all okay.  Quitting isn’t.  Your mind, body, and spirit will tell you when it’s time to recalculate and get back en route.  As long as you keep going, there’s light along the way.” – Joy Comes in the Mourning

Not surprisingly, I got lost in the weeds many times in the process of putting this book together.  I believe when we are making waves for good and for God in the world that the enemy will throw every distraction, every discouragement, and every weapon it can. 

The Grief Beast

Grief work is not easy.  It’s why so many people don’t and won’t do it.  Because grief can be a cranky, untrained dog.  Most of the time it looks okay and minds its manners.  But when provoked, it bites.  Its jaws are filled with pain, anger, regret, shame, guilt, disappointment, confusion, depression, doubt, and fear.  And the better you’re feeling when it lunges at you, the harder it’ll clench its teeth. 

I think those repeated wounds are meant to discourage us from ever healing.  We’re not much use for the kingdom of God when we’re bleeding.  Yet if you can stare your wild grief animal in the eye and over time patiently demand that it obey, you become a confident and capable master over its power.

Old dog... same old tricks

It’s admittedly hard to teach an old dog new tricks.  Grief will bite, when you least expect it, regardless of how much time has passed, or the nature of the grief itself.  As I put pen to paper (or really, fingers to keys) to tell LJ’s story, all sorts of grief came up.  Not only about losing our son but also about almost losing our marriage and our family too. 

When those memories and emotions rise to the top, I have two choices: I can stuff them down as fast as they appeared, or I can confront them, acknowledge what they’re hurting, and decide to breathe through it. 

What I don’t have to do is live in those memories and emotions for long.  THAT I believe is the fine line between healing and hopelessness.

Healing and hope

I believe I have hope because I found it.  I believe I can heal because I’ve felt it.  I believe I am meant for something wonderful in this life because I am still here.  And isn’t that the most humbling invitation to sort through the mess of grief?  To emerge from the ashes humbled, stronger, battle-worn, and even more convicted of our purpose? 

All this is to say, I live with this stuff every day of my life, rumbling around in my head and heart.  It matters to me.  So to put it into a book, and see that other people cared about it too, has truly been the most joyfully humbling experience of my life. 

Never since LJ have I felt so supported, loved, cared for, and believed in.  Five days have passed and I’m still teary writing this note. 

Grief is universal

The pain of grief and all those other “bites” it brings with it are universal heartaches.  Which is why I believe there’s truly something for everyone in this little book, whether it’s simply a chapter on anger or depression, or any quote ranging from infuriation with God to trust in His infinitely mysterious plan.  Something different has resonated with each person on our launch team and that’s been an incredible learning experience for me. 

So I guess what I’m saying most of all is thank you.  For reading, for caring, for being willing to touch all these tender ideas of healing.  It’s the only way I know how to come through the fire and it’s never as lonely when we go it together. 

Book scoop

If you didn’t get your copy of Joy Comes in the Mourning yet, here’s where to find it:

I’ve packaged every single book myself, and there are still (just a very few) signed copies left.  We’ve sent them literally coast to coast, and one even went to Pensacola to someone I don’t know yet.  If that’s you, please know that nothing made me smile more than knowing one of these little books is headed to my happiest place on earth! (It’s where this whole crazy blog idea was birthed, too!)  Someday we’ll meet in that beautiful white sandy paradise. 

It’s bound to be a crazy week, no matter your line of work.  We have “grab-and-go” meals ready for literally every single night through Sunday.  If your schedule looks similar to ours, take an extra minute today to breathe, pray, focus, and hold on tight to what’s most important.  The other stuff clamoring for your attention is just a distraction from loving your people – and yourself- well.

HP,

J

If you're local and would like to pick up your book rather than have us ship it, enter code "PICKUP" at checkout and contact me to pick it up!  Just head to www.getjoy.shop to get started.  

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.

Things change | grief | kindness | gentleness | blue mountains
Oct 29

Things Change

By Jessica Allen | Grief

My original working title for the book was Blue October until someone told me I have been living under a rock and Blue October is a band (they’re good!).   

We went to the zoo this past Saturday under that gorgeous blue October sky.  G’s softball tournament bracket blocked out the entire day and I had prepared myself that we might not get away.  Jack asked her if she wanted to stay to play or head on to the zoo.  She picked the zoo.  On "LJ Day," the answer is YES.  No matter what.  We would have reworked our plan if she wanted to stay and play.  But selfishly, I'm so grateful she didn't.  

I hope they always want to go to the zoo, even when they’re grown. 

(It all works out.  The tournament continued without her and they won the whole thing, and she got to see her teammates the next day at the party.  She was presented with the “Softball Fashionista” award – they love her crazy socks and quirky style.)

As anticipated, the simultaneous zoo and hospital reconstruction projects made it so that we can’t see the NICU anymore.  I freaked out about it last year when construction began, and it was sad this year too.  We know it’s there, and that’s enough.  It has to be enough now, anyway. 

I went back to the NICU one time, on the 5 year anniversary.  It was hard… traumatic, actually.  I really thought I was ready to take gifts to the staff and the families.  I did what I came to do and held it together until I left.  But the smells (tunnels, hand sanitizer, general smell of the wing) and sounds (elevators, monitors, reception phone) and visuals (aquarium, lighting, big double doors I can’t enter any longer) were too much to take in. 

I haven’t been back since. 

So now that I can’t even see that precious space from the outside anymore, it was painful to mark yet another passing season in this whole grief journey.  Things change.  And those changes can be just as hard as grief itself. 

I get a little paranoid sometimes that people must be just absolutely sick of hearing me talk about this stuff.  Like if I were listening to me, I’d be sick of it too. 

That is the crappiest part of this whole process.  Feeling bad about feeling bad about feeling bad.  And then feeling bad because you don’t feel bad anymore.  (What even is this cheap shot?!) 

Yet I have never once felt frustrated with someone “in the thick of it,” maybe because I know what it’s like to be there.  And ultimately, if people do feel frustrated with me, they’ve never let on, or they’ve just left me alone, or they quietly “unfollowed” me on social media.  I see you, Instagram.

We’ve had dreary days this week and I’m honestly grateful.  Sunshine in a slump is almost insult to injury.  G loves Halloween.  I hate it, all the creepy decorations and our weird cultural fascination with possessed clowns and demon children and the undead.  But because Halloween is important to her, it’s important to me, so we compromise on decorations.  I stalled as long as I could this year and finally took her shopping yesterday.  We decided on giant spider webs; I can handle that.  She asked if she could paint her pumpkin creepy and that’s fine too. 

She asked me in the car if I was tired.  She is so perceptive.  I just answered simply, yes.  Thank you for noticing, and thank you for asking.  She said, I can tell, Mommy.   I wanted to cry.  It felt good to just be honest with her, as much as was necessary with a 9 year old.  That moment was a good reminder for me that I do not have to be Super Sunshiny Sparkly Mom all the time.  Normal Mom or Tired Mom or even Sad Mom is still a good mom. 

99.9% of the time I can find the bright side, the spiritual lesson, the glass-half-full approach.  100% of the time I do choose hope – the knowledge that today can be better than yesterday, that God is working all things together for my good, and that we (all people) are capable of change and growth beyond our human strength. 

I’m self-caring this week, more than normal, and for me that looks like sleeping enough, cooking yummy food, lighting cozy candles, keeping my space clean, steering clear of social media, reading/listening to good edifying material, refusing to play the mind-bending “what if” game, choosing not to make any big knee-jerk decisions, staying faithful to writing and community, and not losing my patience with my people.  Some of those things are harder than others. 

Ironically, writing is usually my first go-to strategy to sort out the mess in my mind and heart.  I know I’m in a really rough patch when I want to run away even from that.  So this is me checking in today, with myself, and with everyone else who isn’t sick of hearing about it yet. 

Share love with people today, wherever you go.  Life, faith, relationships, they are hard and we are all just stumbling around down here trying to do it right.  Give grace.  Show compassion.  Grant patience.  Breathe peace.  Go out of your way to make something convenient for someone else.  Let someone go first in line.  Write a kind note.  Leave a thoughtful voicemail.  Add an extra mindful greeting in an email.  BE NICE.  Even to people who you feel don’t deserve it.

I guess what I’m hearing myself say here (ughhh writing works, dammit!) is that at my most vulnerable, I can still tolerate creepy Halloween, I can muscle through triggery memories, I can breathe and pray through the grief journey, but what I can’t stomach is unkindness.  Not even necessarily sent in my direction.  Unkindness in general.  I guess it’s because I know how desperately I crave that gentleness of spirit, especially in my weakest and most tender moments. 

I’m sure there’s a way to wrap this all in a nice moral-of-the-story bow, but I’m too tired for that today, and I am giving myself permission to enjoy the gifts of imperfection. 

Wherever you are on this cloudy day, be gentle, seek out kindness, and stay close to people who feel like sunlight.  They need us as much as we need them.

HP,

J <3

BOOK UPDATE:  I can't thank you enough for your thoughtful and generous outpouring of support for my book!  Joy Comes in the Mourning is edited, formatted, copyrighted, licensed, covered, and heading to print!  We'll be launching the whole thing the first week of December.  If you'd like to be part of the launch team, which includes easy things like reading the book ahead of time and writing an online review, getting the inside scoop, attending a launch party, and who doesn't love a tshirt?!, subscribe to Happy Mail Club and/or drop me a note at jessica@heartfullypresent.com.  

Not okay (and that's okay) | grief | broken eggshells | grief in marriage | child loss
Oct 22

Not okay (and that’s okay)

By Jessica Allen | Grief

This is a big week in our house.  Marriage stuff (ouchy stuff) and the anniversary of LJ’s death are JUST HARD and even though in the grand scheme of things we’re great, some days we’re just not okay.

I’ll lightheartedly say with mild humor that grief is pushing me to overcaffeinating and overeating and overthinking and overworrying and overobsessing.  I find myself undersleeping, underbreathing, underforgiving, and under pressure

Even when the humor and the rhyme and rhythm fall away, I can candidly admit that these anniversaries are supremely heartbreaking. 

October is when our son was born and died, and it’s when our marriage fell apart.  (Well, October is when our marriage broke altogether.  It had been in steady decay long before then.)

So we have lots of scary, tender, upsetting, painful, and indelible memories crammed into one tiny month that send our emotional and grief wheels turning.

Similar to the chart in the hospital that notes your pain level with faces ranging from happy to screaming. Hint: pinpointing your location on this chart will only help you IF YOU ARE HONEST. Lies and “faking it” don’t fix grief faster.

How am I doing? (Not okay is okay)

On any given day, both as a couple and as individuals, Jack and I are anywhere from “present and grateful” to “I really wish you wouldn’t have asked.”  10 years have passed since LJ died, and 3 years have passed since our near-divorce,  and every year I think it’s going to get easier.  Maybe someday it will.  Some things are improved, like our patience with each other and our healthy (healthier) communication skills.  Some things are still as yucky as they were the first time around, like recalling the irreversible events that led up to both traumas.  I hope someday those memories and flashbacks won’t feel quite so painful.  Time doesn’t heal wounds this deep, but it does blur their harsh lines a little.  

The grief monster (all tricks, no treats)

What I’ve learned is that the grief monster costumes up differently every year.  Sometimes he comes in a sad suit, and sometimes an angry one, and sometimes he wears an invisibility cloak to hit me over the head when I’m not expecting the blow.  That’s his favorite charade, I think.  He can hide different weapons under there too, like guilt and shame and regret and other toxic thoughts he whispers into my ear when I’m alone with myself in the quiet. 

I wish I could say that our marriage communication is so sublime (it isn’t) that we don’t get awkward and uncomfortable around these painful emotions and memories (we do). 

No matter how much you work on your marriage, or on grief recovery, there will always be little cracks in the armor where the enemy tries to get through.  In fact, the more diligently you work on your marriage, the more intently he tries to get through.

If the enemy can’t wreck your family, and if he can’t wreck your marriage, he’ll try to wreck YOU. 

And the old adage is true: when it rains, it pours.  Lots of little old ghosts have come to call this month, in the form of written communication and live conversations.  Each knock was an invitation to engage; an opportunity to step inside a time machine right back into the past. 

NO GOOD WOULD COME FROM THIS. 

The past is not really in the past if it’s bothering your present

A well-intending counselor sent my blood pressure to Jupiter once by saying “put the past in the rearview mirror and never look back.”  I thought that was quite possibly the dumbest and most ignorant thing you could possibly do.  Our cars have a rearview mirror for a reason. It’s to see what’s behind us so we don’t get in a wreck. 

But the passing of time has given me a fresher perspective.  I think this advice is right, but needs a qualifier to be fully effective:  Put the past in the rearview mirror, once you have properly reckoned with it, and never look back.   Resolve what you can.  Reconcile what you can.  Forgive whomever and whenever and however you can.  And then, and only then, can you put the pain of the past in the rearview mirror and not feel tempted to look back (or God forbid, turn back around and drive back towards it).  Those little old ghosts will tap your shoulder persistently until you finally agree to address them. It’s healthy to reckon with them intentionally and on your own terms. It becomes unhealthy when they push you into a corner, because at that point you’ll react with anxiety and poor decisions rather than a clear mind and a purposeful heart.

A promise

As far as “dealing with the past” goes, I promised myself this year that I would absolutely not, under any circumstances, say I am doing okay if I am, in fact, not okay at all.  It is my gift to myself to honor where I am, how I’m feeling, and the true pace at which I’m navigating grief at ten (and three) years. 

I promised myself to breathe through the hard conversations and the painful moments.  And I promised myself to NEVER GO BACK into the cave of shame and self-destruction.  I have sought and requested and received forgiveness and redemption.  Both from my Maker and from my husband.  So there is no reason to continually put myself back into that hole of despair and self-deprication.  Grief is hard enough as it is without cutting off your own oxygen too. 

So we’re doing it messy over here, lots of eggshells to walk around and plates to break

How we “anniversary”

Friday is a tough day, and so is Saturday (Zoo Day, although Zoo Day is more sweet than bitter by now).  Both kids have end-of-season ball tourneys both days, so I think we’re stressing about that scheduling monkey-wrench more than we’re giving ourselves credit for.  Date night and zoo plans are fluid until we see how games shake out. 

In the meantime, we’re trying to stay in the pale blue okay part of the chart, giving each other lots of grace and patience when we’re sitting deep in the black not-okay part of the chart instead, and taking one blessed day at a time.   I know each time we walk this October road together we come out stronger.  Someday I will hopefully look back on this aspect of “becoming” in my life and feel grateful I took the time to work through every raw step. 

Praying for you, wherever you are on your own okay-not-okay chart, and thanking God that He gives us infinite chances to try again. 

HP,

J

PS: I wrote a book and it’s headed your way soon! Check out my previous blog post for the scoop, or head to our Heartfully Present Facebook/IG pages to see pics and find excerpts. Even better: are you on the Happy Mail Club list?! Sign up below to get updates, sneak-peeks behind the scenes, and special treats delivered once a week right to your email inbox. It’s the sunshine you never knew you needed on a Friday.

Joy Comes in the Mourning book cover
Oct 09

Happy 10th birthday, LJ

By Jessica Allen | Grief

I’ve been walking around all day with a lump in my throat that’ll undoubtedly burst at the first “how are you?”

Our first son was born and died in October.  Tomorrow (today, by the time I post this on the blog) is his 10th birthday.

There’s something about this double digit milestone, a decade, that feels unbelievable.  Meaning, I actually cannot believe this much time has passed, and even more, I cannot believe I have continued to find my way in the world.   

There is so much to say.  So much I could fill a book.

So I did.  I wrote a book. 

This book has been pursuing me patiently and quietly, mostly standing at a distance “pssst”-ing me every once in awhile.  It was pretty easy to shrug off, what with a business to run, and a family, and a ministry, and saving a marriage, and then having a new baby.  It listened to my excuses and respectfully retreated a few paces, leaving me to my life and all the pursuits that captivate my attention.

Within the past six months, however, it crept closer and closer until it finally wrapped its arms around me and whispered in my ear, “it’s time.” 

So I soaked in the summer sunshine in a beautiful resort pool on my birthday and cried into my cocktail.  I had run out of excuses.  And truthfully, I had run out of steam. 

It is exhausting to keep running away from something you know you are supposed to be doing.   Whether it’s God, or a ministry, or mending a relationship, at some point you will collapse from the sheer weariness of stubborn disobedience and surrender to its persistent voice.   

This book is a ten-year reflection of grief, love, faith, and every real and raw step of the path my life has taken since the birth and death of our son.  I did not hold anything back.  Once I started writing, it tumbled out head over heels.  It felt easy and impossible to write all at the same time.  It stretched me to articulate some thoughts that until now have lived in my body as wordless feelings – actual physical feelings – that twinge my sides and hurt my throat and sting my eyes.  I had to give them words, which gave them life, and that was scary.  Once they’re real you have to reckon with them. 

I wrote the book I wish I had when LJ died - the voice I needed in the darkest abysses of grief.  I needed to know what to expect, how to get through it, and how to begin to really live again. 

Through the past 10 years, I have learned what to expect because we experienced it all in real life.  I have learned how to get through it because we did, bruised but breathing.  And I have learned how to live again because, by the grace of God and the love of our amazing village, I just put one clumsy foot in front of the other until that stumble turned into a walk.  Eventually the walk became familiar enough that I could lift my eyes and see the incredible world around me again.

I can’t wait to share the whole book and its story with you.  It releases December 1 everywhere you like to buy books and I promise you’ll be the first to know the updates, announcements, and special surprises in store as we send this little book into the world. 

In the meantime, please say a little prayer today for LJ, and wish him a happy birthday.  Can you imagine the celebration lavished upon us in heaven?  Down here today, we’re taking the kids for cupcakes in Grace Garden, and then meeting as a family simply to be together after all the kids’ nighttime ball games.  I’m surprising them with a bound copy of the manuscript each.  They have absolutely no idea I wrote the book, and I can’t wait to give them this gift.  I didn’t tell anyone, actually, for some very intentional reasons, but that’s a different story for a different day.

I’ve found healing through writing, that’s not news to anyone here.  But this stuff is still so hard sometimes.  I feel sad, and angry, and cheated, that our 10th birthday party is missing the guest of honor.  I can be faithful and hopeful and trusting and gratefully honor God with my life and still want to stomp my foot and cry “foul.” 

Grief never really gets easier.  It just gets different.  Thanks for loving me, supporting our family, and choosing to lean into the hard stuff.  It doesn’t feel quite so lonely when we face it together. 

HP,

J

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