fbpx

Category Archives for "Life"

Yes I can but I need some help | asking for support in a culture that idolizes independence | black text on white background
Oct 12

I can, but I need help!

By Jessica Allen | Life

I had a failed epidural with Elisha, my 2-year-old. 

Kudos to all the mamas who loved and embraced natural childbirth.  My pain-management clan hails to you with honor... but I will never join your tribe.  You would never teach me your secret handshake.  I would bring much shame upon your name.  

I don’t really know what happened the day E was born, but there was no pain relief.  I have never experienced such excruciating pain in my life, although kidney stones are close.

Everyone was doing their very best to A) get the epidural working, and B) help me in case it didn’t, when all of a sudden someone said “I can’t do this!”

I whipped my head around to figure out what lunatic picked this moment for negativity, so I could ask her to politely get it together or leave.  Imagine my horror when I realized that statement came out of ME.

I was so caught off guard that if it weren’t for the excruciating pain I was in, I would have made fun of myself and joked about throwing myself out of the room.  “I can’t” is not part of my vocabulary, especially since I became a parent.  I don’t think there’s a more limiting statement we could think, believe, or model for others. 

"I can," "I can't," and "I won't"

Now there are a lot of things “I won’t.”  It’s important to understand how to give an intentional and thoughtful NO.  Saying “no” isn’t admitting “I can’t;” Saying “no” is communicating “I choose not to allocate my valuable time and energy on this particular task.” Doesn’t that feel more empowering than being exhausted and run ragged all the time because we overcommitted to everyone else’s needs?

But.

Most times, the only way “I can” is with a whole lot of help. We’ve lost this art of asking for help, and accepting it too, in an age of self-sufficiency and toxic independence and Instagram-worthy pictures of our perfect mess-free lives.  Somehow we’ve started feeling shame if we can’t do it all ourselves, which is absurd because we absolutely cannot.  We cannot do it all.  Which is why it takes a healthy balance of NO and YES BUT to keep all the plates in the air. 

So rather than shutting down and screaming I CAN’T! at the people I love most, here’s what I can say instead to the good healthy YESSES I want to give in my life:

I can...

I can… after I get a good night’s sleep.

I can… with the advice and support of a good friend.

I can… once I’ve taken the steps I need to get my head screwed on straight and tight.

I can… after I drink some water and eat that healthy (or indulgent) meal my body’s craving. 

I can… once I’ve burned some physical energy.

I can… but not right now.  It needs to wait until tomorrow or next week or next month. 

I can… with a little help caring for my children.

"I can" in 2020, but I need to ask for help

Because the thing is, we’re all panting through 2020’s failed epidural right now.  There’s nothing taking the edge off.  We’re all feeling every bit of searing pain, anxiety, and pressure.  It may be hitting you mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically, financially, professionally, relationally, or politically.

I bet you’ve probably panicked at least once and thrown some things – and some people – out of your proverbial room.    

So what do you need to help you “I can?” 

Help with time management, child care, meals, or housework?

A listening and non-judgmental ear?

To excuse yourself from a conversation – or relationship – that is causing you anxiety and stress?

A physical wellness visit with your doctor?

An hour to yourself, no distractions?

This is self care.  Sure, your version of self care may include a bubble bath, but I’ve realized the most effective self care involves asking myself “what do you really need right now to feel well and healthy?”

Needs balance out

Today I needed a run (like a lung-busting lashing) and some vitamin D.  Yesterday I needed to cry and eat chicken wings.  Both days were equally satisfying and equally important.  It all balances out in the end.  If you find yourself leaning too far to the indulgent side of self care, add in a few physically nurturing activities.  If you can’t bring yourself to do that, it’s okay for awhile… but if you need help steering the ship a little differently, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help.  That’s one “I can…” mindset you’ll love: “I can… with a little guidance and support.”  Related: Not Okay

The rest of the story

The rest of the story from the delivery room is that my “I can’t” outburst was obviously wrong, because I actually can, and I finally did.  I got a cute fat baby as my reward.  And a chocolate pie, delivered by my mother who was circling the parking lot until the moment she could come inside.  The epidural finally kicked in about 20 minutes after he was born, and I couldn’t feel a thing for about 8 hours.  Which was fine, because the baby and the pie (and the Astros playoff game!) kept me plenty busy.  After all was said and done, I felt ridiculous for sobbing “I can’t.”

But in my most panicky pain, all I could think was “I can’t.”  And the only reason I COULD that day was because my very concerned husband and my incredible L&D nurse stepped in and squashed all that crazy talk that was coming out of my mouth.  Nobody told me to “just try harder” or “it’ll be okay” or “cheer up Charlie.”  They held my hands and helped me focus and get the job done.  They gave me the actual physical and emotional support I needed, got into my head and on my level, and helped me through every step of the way. THAT is the kind of help and support we all need in every aspect of our lives.

A tough truth about getting the help you need

Here's a tough truth I had to learn: if you aren't getting the help and support you need, it is your responsibility to get it. It may look like making some phone calls, making a list, reworking your family budget of time or finances, or confiding in a trusted person.  If you are truly unwell, it may look like asking someone to help you get the help you need.  Because when you're crawling on rock bottom, asking for help can feel impossible.  There are people in your life who want to help.  But they will never know you need it unless you ask.  Summon that 20 seconds of courage, and pick up the phone.  

What support do you need to help you "I can?"

Every day, and especially right now, a season of insanity I TRULY BELIEVE we will only get through by loving and helping each other.

What does your version of “I can…” look like right now?  What do you need to say NO to?  Who and what can support you in your good YESSES?  And how can you set some of those support systems in place?  (like: today?)

HP,

J <3

Forgiveness 101: what it is, and what it isn't. Black text on white background.
Sep 04

Forgiveness 101: what it IS & what it ISN’T

By Jessica Allen | Life , Marriage

Forgiveness can bring us peace and a path forward.  So why does it feel so impossible sometimes?


I'll answer that question by asking two more; the two big questions I ask myself every day:


Do I want to be well?

And,

How can I cultivate more peace in my life?

If I truly want to be well, it requires action on my part.  Which means I really have to be honest with my answer to this question. Because if I truly want to be well, it means evaluating my thought life, my spiritual and human relationships, and my physical health, and adjusting the sails accordingly.  

Which always leads me to my next big question:

How can I cultivate more peace in my life?  When I look at my thoughts, my relationships, and my health, it’s almost a guarantee that cultivating peace means letting go.  And the first step for me is forgiveness.

Forgiveness is the greatest gift you can give yourself.  The energy we spend holding onto resentment, frustration, and the score card is energy better spent literally anywhere else.  I can’t even get to Gratitude until I pay a visit to Forgiveness. 

Forgiveness gets a bum rap sometimes because our world likes justice instead.  Accountability.  No excuses. 

But forgiveness is a critical part of justice.  If you’ve ever watched emotional courtroom victim testimonies, even in the most heinous crimes, you will find seemingly-supernatural examples of victims forgiving their aggressor.  Not for the aggressor’s benefit… but for the sake of the victims’ own peace.  The only way to heal and move forward is to practice forgiveness within yourself. 

Before we dig into what forgiveness IS, let’s go ahead and call out what forgiveness is not

Forgiveness is NOT:

  • Extending trusting immediately (again or ever)
  • Excusing the violation
  • Saying “it’s okay” (because it wasn’t)
  • Forgetting what happened
  • A one-time solution
  • A magical happy-face pain eraser
  • Easy

Forgiveness isn’t easy.  It’s one of the hardest skills we can put into practice.  But the concept is simple. 

9 things forgiveness IS:

1. It releases the other person from the debt you feel/think they owe

Releasing expectations that the other person is going to change

This is the basis of forgiveness.  The deeper the wound, the harder it is to pardon the one who wounded you.  It's a choice.  Where we get bogged down in forgiveness is when we try to pack all these other peripherally-related things into the same backpack: trust, love, and hope.  Those may come again in time.  But the whole entire point of forgiveness is to help you move forward from the pain you're stuck in.  Nothing good happens until you decide anger is too heavy a burden to bear.  And honestly, releasing the other person from the debt you feel they owe is just good expectations-management - they're probably never going to "repay" you as fully as you feel you deserve anyway.)

2. Forgiveness is releasing any and all expectations that the other person will change. 

Forgiveness is releasing any and all expectations that the other person is going to change, black text on white background

We know the only person we can change is ourselves.  So let’s agree to stop setting ourselves up for disappointment by expecting our “punishment” to affect any change.  Drop the pressure.  The other person might surprise you.  (Also, they might not, and then you’ll know for sure.)

Related: Releasing Expectations

3. It does not mean you can or should trust the person again.

You don't have to trust someone now or ever again, black text on white background

If someone hits me with a 2x4, I can choose to forgive them.  But you bet I’ll never stand near them in a lumberyard.  (Thank you to our first marriage counselor for this illustration I still hold onto.). Trust is lost in an instant and earned back one tiny trustworthy behavior at a time.  Be patient.  But set good boundaries in the meantime. 

Tough truth I had to learn: so many of us get hung up on forgiveness because “I can’t trust him/her anymore.” ⁣⁣That’s not forgiveness. That’s trust. And they are two separate things.⁣⁣ You can have forgiveness without trust. But you can’t ever (ever, ever) rebuild trust without forgiveness. ⁣⁣Try forgiveness first. Trust may come in time.⁣

4. It sets aside your anger and pain in exchange for pursuing your own personal peace.

Set aside your anger and pain in exchange for pursuing your own personal peace, black text on white background

Seems impossible sometimes, but swapping out poison for peace within is the best trade ever.  

I'll note here that when forgiveness feels MOST impossible, faith takes over.  God, who has forgiven the unforgivable in me, can help me forgive what feels unforgivable in others.  There's not much we can do all by ourselves.  Especially forgiving someone who deeply wounded you.  This supernatural grace is available from the One who created you.  Just ask.  Be willing to try.  

Related: Choose love

5. It's choosing never to use a person's offense as a weapon ever again.

choose never to use a person's offense as a weapon ever again, black text on white background

You can’t simultaneously forgive someone and continue to blame them for what they did.  Healing won’t happen if you keep bringing up the offense... the shame and resentment they’ll feel, and the anger reward you’ll feel will both stand in the way of moving forward.

Related: The Blame Game

6. It's essential in any relationship you want to flourish.

Forgiveness isn't required in relationships, but forgiveness is essential in any relationship you want to flourish, black text on white background

It wasn’t until I made the mental switch from “fighting against him” to “fighting with him” that our runaway train wreck finally found some light at the end of the tunnel. It took both of us grasping that concept to move forward. Fighting (and the resulting wounds that follow) is normal. If you’re not arguing, even occasionally, someone’s not being honest. The real question is: are you fighting against each other, or with and FOR each other?

What’s the ultimate goal at the end of the fight: to be right, or to be closer as a couple?

Related: Marriage Fights: 10 things to say instead AND Say this, not that

7. You most likely have to offer it first before it's extended to you too.

Forgiveness is something you most likely have to offer first before it's extended to you too, black text on white background

I think this is the biggest reason it feels so hard to forgive people. Someone has to go first.

8. It brings healing but that healing is yours alone to choose.

healing is yours alone to choose, black text on white background

There's a doorway to healing, wide open in front of you. No one can force you to walk through that door to forgive them, but you'll stand in your own way of peace and healing every moment you choose not to.  It's an inside job: a daily choice, over and over again within yourself.

9. It can set you free.

Forgiveness is setting yourself free, black text on white background

Forgiveness is the greatest gift you can give yourself. The energy we spend holding onto unforgiveness in the form of anger, resentment, frustration, and the score card is energy better spent literally anywhere else. It will stand in the way of anything good you desire for your life. We talk all the time about reflecting in gratitude daily. But I can’t even get to Gratitude until I pay a visit to Forgiveness.

Today's personal forgiveness list:

  • I forgive myself for losing my patience with my daughter yesterday over a mundane household chore
  • I forgive my toddler for refusing to go to sleep last night
  • I forgive God for allowing suffering in the world (just a few light items on my mind last night!!!)
  • I forgive my knees for aching and my neck for pinching when I woke up
  • Some personal marriage and family stuff

Some of these pains sound fluffy when I look at them, but letting go of even these “simple” things frees my spirit up for the people and tasks which deserve my presence today.

So how do you know when you’ve truly forgiven?

When that person can pass through your mind peacefully and without stirring up trouble.  It might twinge you, because forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting, but you can bless and release them before they drill holes in your proverbial boat. 

Which is why forgiveness is 100% a gift to yourself.  It takes daily, intentional work. 

So... what’s on your forgiveness list? What’s the most powerful form of forgiveness you’ve ever received?  And what aspects of forgiveness do you struggle with?  Drop a comment or send a message.  And be sure to check out our social channels for all these graphics and bite-sized forgiveness thoughts over the past week or so.  Facebook: Heartfully Present, and Instagram @heartfullypresent

Last but certainly not least, I humbly invite you to share this post with someone you know who is struggling with forgiveness, either on the giving or receiving end.  None of this is easy.  But we're stronger, smarter, better, and more grace-filled when we try it together.  

HP,

J <3

Nice isn't hard
Jul 27

How to be nice (because nice isn’t hard)

By Jessica Allen | Life

Since when did it become so hard to be nice?

My heart broke a little in the grocery store last week.

I loaded up the baby and went inside because I needed to pick up prescriptions, was missing several items from my last pickup order, and needed to return some wrong-sized light bulbs.

The woman at the desk was frazzled. I could tell my laundry list of requests was the last thing she wanted to handle. And as she made fun of herself for not seeing the light bulbs on my receipt, I tried to ease the tension by simply saying, “I can only imagine how googly-eyed you must be today. Yours isn’t an easy job lately.”

Her shoulders dropped 3 feet, and as she finally looked me in the eye over her mask she replied, “People are just so mean right now.”

She went on to explain, “They just want *everything.* So I just try to help them get it.”

We chatted for a few more minutes before the sky got black and I ran with the stroller through the rain to get back home before Hanna’s first big weather band hit. I think - I hope - I left that sweet lady at the customer service desk a little better than I found her.

Related: 10 Things to Say Instead of Picking a Fight

No excuses

It doesn’t matter how:

  • Tired
  • Frustrated
  • Anxious
  • Hungry
  • Worried
  • Lonely
  • Fearful
  • Late
  • Important
  • Depressed
  • Angry
  • Distracted
  • (any other emotion) you are.

There’s absolutely no reason to be short, rude, or demeaning to someone. Especially if that someone’s literal job is to help us.

People really are trying their best

Research psychology has actually tested and proven that the vast majority of people, the vast majority of the time, are truly doing the best they can. (Even if we can’t fathom how *that* could possibly be “someone’s best.”)

And, here’s another reminder that’s kept me from spouting off more times than I’m willing to admit: People have their reasons, even if we can’t understand what they are.

I feel like this is an especially important nugget to tuck into our pockets as we head back to school. And for those of us still in virus hotspots. Anxiety and emotions are running hot as we watch people thinking and behaving differently than we think is right. News Flash: there is not going to be even ONE decision made by politicians or educational/church/corporate leadership that pleases 100% of the people.

BUT.

1) People are doing the very best they can, even and especially people in positions of influential leadership, and
2) People have their reasons, even when we can’t understand what they are.

Choose to be nice

Contrary to what the media depicts, you can disagree with someone’s perspective and behavior without ripping them to shreds. (Hard sometimes.)

ALSO contrary to what the media depicts, you can actually disapprove of a decision and keep your mouth shut about it, and/or choose not to try to change someone’s mind. (Harder always. And doubly frustrating, because it rarely works.)

You can need something and ask someone kindly for help instead of demanding it like a raging toddler. I have one of those in the house. I know.

Related: Make kindness your greatest strength

A simple formula for nice responses

My general protocol when I feel torqued up and ready to chomp someone is this:

  • Look the person in the eye (so I can remember they’re a human being too)
  • Exhale
  • Say something kind, or
  • Say thank you and walk away.

I can’t expect other people to be nice to me all the time or respect the way I think, feel, and act. But I can hold myself to a basic standard of nice. I can also humble myself and apologize when I inevitably blow it and treat someone like garbage because I couldn’t control my temper. (However, if your apologies outnumber your kind encounters, it’s time to reevaluate the way you do business.)

Related: Bringing Your Best (when all you've got is your worst)

Nice is contagious too. Try it. And if it doesn’t work - because sometimes it doesn’t - shake it off. Being a butthead never makes a bad situation better. (I would tattoo this exact sentence on my 9-year-old son’s body if I thought it would help.)

Just be nice. Nice isn’t hard.

HP,

J

P.S.

I'd love to hear from you.  What are you wanting to hear about during this unusual season?  Feel free to comment here, pop an idea on our Facebook/IG pages, or send me an email.  Just remember... be nice. 😉

self care isn't selfish
Jul 21

Self care isn’t selfish

By Jessica Allen | Life , Marriage

Giving feels hard right now. We’re all maxed out.  Stressed out.  Worried out.  Zoomed out.  News-ed out.  Social media-d out.  Tired out.  Worn out. 

So the idea of giving anything else “out” seems unreasonable. 

Yet in a twist of irony, the most gracious gift we can give out to the people we love is our own self care.

When was the last time you asked yourself, “what do I need today?”

A way to fail at self care

We tend to put ourselves last on the list.  Here’s how it usually looks in my own life:

24/7: caring/doing for other people

0/7: being mindful of my own personal needs

One random day for no reason: completely melting down because I feel overextended and taken for granted as a wife, mom, and friend

I stuff my own feelings and am a sucker subscriber to the “suck it up buttercup” channel, which serves me crappy messages all day long like:

  • You’re strong, and a strong person wouldn’t feel tired/overwhelmed/emotional about this
  • There’s nobody else who can do this thing right
  • You have to do this thing right now or the world will fall apart
  • You can sleep when you’re dead (I LOATHE THIS STATEMENT)
  • Self-care is for wimps and losers who have nothing else better to do with their time (what will all the people think if I sit down, rest, and read a book for pleasure?!  Who has time to eat these bon bons all day?!)

These are all really distorted messages that feed my insecurities and boost my ego (I am irreplaceable and “so busy and important” that I don’t have time to stop). 

When I don’t care for myself, when I run out of gas, my system starts fueling itself with whatever bottom-of-the-barrel reserves it can find, which is, 100% of the time, fear and insecurity

I can travel a good distance on fear-based motivation.  News flash: we all can, and we all do, much of the time.  But when that lousy fuel runs out, we combust. 

A better recipe for self care

Here’s a better structure for self care that works:

23/7: caring/doing for my people, with self-respect and good boundaries in place

1/7: paying attention to what I need, whether it’s a good walk, vitamin D, a sincere talk with a good friend, or a hot bath and a good book

Never and I mean not ever: exploding on the people I love most because I ran myself into the ground in the name of “selfless service to others”

The greater the demands on your energy, the higher priority self-care should take

This is a season where everyone needs so much.  My children need so much.  As spouses, we need each other so much.  We need a safe and truthful sounding board.  We need hope in all good things to come.  We need assurances of health and safety for our communities.  We need strong, confident, humble, resourceful leaders who can say, “I don’t have all the answers but we’re in this together.” 

Our emotional reserves are just about tapped out by the news and politics surrounding every decision we make. 

If we’re not careful, we set ourselves running on that last-resort reserve of fear-based fuel.  But with a bit of intentional self care, we could be fueling our minds and hearts with something much more reliable and healthy instead: faith, hope, love, and the grounding truth of our own clearly articulated beliefs. 

Real benefits of self care

When I pause to care for myself, the swirling cesspool of anxiety stops sucking me in.  When I talk with a trustworthy friend about things that matter, my perspective comes back.  

When I believe truths about myself like I am fearfully and wonderfully made… I have been given unique gifts to fulfill a unique purpose… I am the perfect, divinely-selected wife for my husband and mother for my children… I don’t have all the answers and that’s okay… I don’t have to be all things for all people… when I believe those truths about myself, I can make decisions with confidence and without fear.  When I sort through my thoughts and emotions during an hour of yoga or a walk with the dog, I can answer other people’s questions without biting their faces off.  When I leave my people to their own capable devices to singe my skin off in a hot bath and wander away in a book I’m enjoying, I can then respond to the needs of my family without feeling neglected or overwhelmed.

When I can dig out from under the weight of my own messy thoughts, I am better for everyone else, because I first took the time to get better for me.

Self care isn’t selfish 

It’s the furthest thing from selfish, actually.

Taking even the simplest, smallest time for personal self care is the greatest gift you can give to your people because it allows you to bring your very best self to the table.

Your patient self.

Your kind self.

Your healthy self.

Your no-strings-attached self.

Your nurturing self.

Your generous self.

Love well

I wrote a little something on my social channels yesterday about weapons and swords.  I woke up today still thinking about it, and ultimately, I don’t think we can get to this place until we intentionally engage in intentional self-care.  

Love well

Put away your shields of anger… resentment… irritation… skepticism.

Lay down your swords of blame… bitterness… assumption… the score card.

Be brave enough to peek over the wall at the person you want to love. Or, with a little more courage, maybe you’ll choose to dismantle that wall brick by brick.

Love cannot be fully given or received when it’s weighted down by fear. The more fear we feel, the more weapons and shields we gather up. And so becomes a vicious cycle which is hard to break: the harder a person is to love, the more weapons and shields we hide behind, which makes it harder to love them...

This is the state of our nation. So many weapons. So many shields. Hearts so far apart we can't even see the faces of who they belong to anymore.

I can’t think of anything I want more than to love well and be loved well in return. Freely, just as I am, without ever feeling the need to brandish a weapon or hide for protection.

If you’re willing to lay down whatever sword and shield you’re carrying, I promise you’ll experience more of the kind of love we were all created for. The kind of love lavished on us by the One who created us, and the kind of love we’re called to lavish upon one another too.

Love well today, and always. Let it set you free.

Make time for self care (or it'll never happen)

Set aside the time for the self care you really need.  Maybe it’s an hour to yourself.  Maybe it’s finally making the phone call to apologize, or ask the hard question, or book the appointment, or say the hard thing. 

Contrary to world view or popular belief, self-care isn’t selfish or frivolous.  Arguably, investing in the most present, nourished, healthy version of yourself is the best gift you can give to the world.   Because when we love ourselves well, we can love our people in the ways they crave to be loved too.

And other than the return of Jesus, there’s nothing the world needs more now than real, true, through-the-tough-stuff love.   

HP,

J

pulling weeds | simple tools for personal growth
Jul 14

Pulling weeds

By Jessica Allen | Life

After months of intense personal work, I recently made some big sharp-right-turn life decisions.  And last Sunday was the first morning since I can remember that I’ve woken up feeling like I had enough mental space available to take a walk and pull weeds in my front yard.   

I realize this is both a good and bad thing.  Good that my mind is starting to relax enough to allow new activities into my day.  Bad that I ever got so maxed out that routine yard work or simply walking around our neighborhood with my son felt overwhelming. 

Letting down

I’m structure and routine oriented, so after feeling peace with the initial decision to resign my two long-standing leadership positions, I actually panicked a little.  Here’s how it went:

  • 6 months leading up to the big decisions: stress, anxiety, worry, fear, debate, restlessness, sadness, grief (I did a ton of intentional emotional/mental work on the front side of the decision to ensure I would feel peace and confidence on the back side)
  • Day-of the phone calls: total peace and gratitude.
  • 2-3 days after: confidence, relief
  • 4 days-2 weeks after: jittery, restlessness, fatigue
  • 2 weeks after: total mental exhale 
  • 4 weeks after: still sweeping some unexpected emotional dust bunnies out of the deep corners.

I didn't expect that last one, but I know I should have.  Total life changes don't come without some necessary personal work - before, during, and after the transitions.

My body actually felt heavy last Sunday, that total exhale day, in a really rewarding, grounded way.  Like I could feel all my fingers and toes, and was acutely aware of my breathing and all my senses.  (Everything I love about yoga, btw.)

Pulling weeds

My son invited me on his daily morning dog walk, and of course I said yes and threw on my shoes.  As we rounded back into our driveway, I saw our front yard beds riddled with weeds, as they had been for weeks.  I was kind of surprised we didn’t get a township letter about it, actually.  I pull a big weed out every now and then when the kids are playing outside but I’ve honestly been so mentally wiped that the thought of blocking out a half-hour to “tidy up” the yard felt exhausting. 

Brother and I made it a game and started making little weed piles on the sidewalk, just like I used to with my dad when we were little.  Brother dislodged dried newspaper pulp from the driveway – the paper had gotten doused in a storm and nobody picked it up before it got squished; another task that felt too hard.  Brother got bored, and hot, and before long it was just me and my podcasts.  (I am listening to a podcast every minute someone doesn’t actively need me for something.  I love everything from trail-blazing entrepreneurialism to politics to true crime to personal development to great fiction and everything in between.)

Dead weight

In the yard, a thorn and berry vine I absolutely cannot kill had wound itself yet again through the big zebra grasses near the street, and I yanked and pulled and cut my fingers even through gloves.  As I got into the zebra grass, I realized there was weeks… maybe even months or years… of dead grass underneath them.  Between freezes and floods and Texas summer and Saharan dust and all the other layers of fresh hell 2020 has dealt us, all our plants here have taken a beating, but these never seem worse for the wear.  They look fresh and green and full of life.  

But I pulled… and pulled… and pulled hidden dead weight out of those grasses for more than an hour.  I even found 2 long-lost yellow Easter eggs, full of sticky, unrecognizable, melted candy.  I collected an entire garbage bin worth of weeds and decay. 

When I was done, I hadn’t even noticed that my podcast had long-since finished and my husband had silently brought out and turned on a fan out for me.  I was dripping in sweat and completely drained. 

Dead weight out of the grass.  Dead weight out of my mind and heart too. 

Personal work requires clearing dead weight

What dead weight is hiding in the corners of your mind and heart?  What thoughts of anxiety, restlessness, worry, fear, grief, or shame are robbing you of precious energy and mental/emotional freedom?  And what weeds could be choking new growth, creativity, vibrance, or your ability to view your life from a fresh perspective? 

My dead weight taking up space is “the past” and “how I think I need to be/do for other people.”  My weeds choking new growth are the limiting beliefs of “what if my work never really makes a difference” and “someone else is better suited for that [role/achievement/success/impact] than I am.”  Another really nasty weed is a piece of dysfunctional hard-wiring that tells me “you need to be doing something to be valuable and loved.”  I can feel a little lost in stillness; jumpy to start the next project or focus my attention on filling someone else’s needs.

Personal work is optional

Whether pruning in the yard or digging into personal work within yourself, it’s all optional.  I guess I could have left the dead grass alone.  It wasn’t even visible unless you intentionally peered inside and underneath the plants, which were lush and thriving.  But now that they’re free to grow without the decay choking them at the roots, I bet they’ll grow even bigger.  I guess I don’t have to sweep these weeds out of my mind and heart, either… but I believe that clutter-free clarity is about to make way for the next season in my life I can’t quite yet see on the horizon. 

Some weeds don’t pull so easily.  The deeper the roots, or the sharper the thorn, the harder the work required… sometimes even a call for help from an extra set of hands.  My yard weed needed sharp clippers and poison.  My heart weeds need a trusted friend or counselor.  And Jesus, who cultivates every bit of any good growth I’ve ever had.  No matter the weed, you can’t just pluck leaves off here and there and expect it to disappear.  You have to get it by the roots or it will come back.  Usually thicker, pricklier, and harder to kill.

So by now, a month into this new-to-me lifestyle, I’m starting to notice some little pesky weeds whose roots I missed on the first pass, trying to wiggle their way back up. 

Useful tools for personal work

If you really want some mind-changing tools, check out literally anything Brene Brown has ever written.  Her concept of “the rumble” and her checklist for rumble language changed the way I sort through big feelings and broken ideas.  This tool is of course tremendous to use in conversations with other people of but it’s made the biggest impact on my life during those times I use it within myself.

Here’s my cheat sheet for weeding out the dead weight of my own anxious thoughts, and I am sure every single one of these questions is credited to someone way smarter than me.  Nothing I have ever done is an original thought; which is absolutely okay, because a great student is a great listener, and a great teacher is an expert thief.

Self Awareness 101 checklist

Download/print this list here.

  • What am I feeling and thinking right now?
  • Why am I actually upset about it?
  • What hold does this upsetting thought or feeling have on me?
  • Who do I love in my life that is being hurt by it?
  • How might this continue to hurt me if I choose to hold onto it?
  • What could happen if I were brave enough to let it go?
  • What other thought, feeling, or opportunity could take its place?
  • How can I honor this thought and then truly release it?

Let it burn go

Sometimes letting go of the super hard stuff feels a little more final with a physical act.

I’m going to tell you a secret: I have a little trick for this.  So does my husband.  

Jack has literally written things on paper and buried them in intentional places. 

I prefer a gentle burn.  (You know I love a good plate-breaking, too.)

There’s something really therapeutic about sending my hard-to-release thoughts and feelings into the wind, up to the sky.  There’s more than just charcoal in the bottom of our Big Green Egg. 

You might be able to just let things go without having to sage the place. That’s okay too (will you tell me what's that like?!).  Or you might need a whole lot of extra help with a counselor (it’s worth it – skip the take-out or an impulse online purchase to save the money and go).

However you choose to release what’s got its hold on you, you’ll be free to move forward into what you’re really meant for.  And the more space you’ll have in mind, body, and soul to create the special magic that only you can.

That choking weed you’re scared to pull is blocking something infinitely more beautiful from blooming within you.

Here’s to whatever you uproot and release in the process of personal work.  It takes guts, time, and maintenance… but it’s undeniably worth it.

HP,
J <3

kindness | make kindness your greatest strength | confetti
Jul 07

Make kindness your greatest strength

By Jessica Allen | Life , Marriage

I have been trying my whole adult life to make sure other people “don't mistake my kindness for weakness."

It's exhausting. I'm exhausted.   

I understand the point of this phrase, and that the people in my life who tried to teach it to me offered it up with the purest of intentions. I know what this phrase means because I have allowed myself to be manipulated, misunderstood, taken advantage of, slandered, and personally and professionally attacked by people who have, ultimately, mistaken my kindness for weakness.

Kindness vs. Badass

I was 21 the first time I heard this kindness-as-weakness advice.  And ever since, I have been trying to "fix" this about myself by growing thicker skin, throwing up walls to protect myself, and practicing exuding confidence in every arena. I ask myself almost every day, "what would my ‘badass’ friends and mentors do in this situation?"  Every time I answer that question and act accordingly, I weave another thread into my own badass superhero cape.  It’s a legitimate tool in my arsenal – something I can pull off the shelf when I need it.  

My badass superhero cape looks… badass.  It’s bright and flashy and grabs attention.  It’s made of perfectly selected words and oozes self-assuredness.  But it’s itchy, and uncomfortable, and has a chip on both shoulders, and no matter how I style it, it just doesn’t fit right.  Because it’s not who I really am.  Wearing it gives me a false sense of confidence… which is really just fear, because what if all these people figure out I’m not a badass at all? 

Wrong lesson

I sold my baby-grownup-self on a warped concept of strength and leadership.  The world - or maybe just me? - values a certain kind of leader: charismatic, engaging, full of life and spark.  I can certainly adjust the dials on my personality and crank up these channels when I need to.  But all the energy that effort requires depletes me.  Because the most authentic version of me is quiet and introspective.  I am confident, but it doesn’t come from flash or volume; my confidence comes from knowing who I really am on the inside and living that way on the outside too.  (Everyone and anyone can gain true confidence from this kind of self-awareness and self-acceptance.)

Kindness and the professional arena

As a fresh college graduate, I dove headfirst into professional arenas requiring the highest levels of charisma and ambition. And therefore, all of a sudden, I hit a giant disconnect between my giftings and my career choices.  The softer, gentler (truest) nature of my personality became a liability in my line of work.  And that constant state of never feeling quite suited for the job left me open to the most painful shadow side of the comparison game – wondering if my brand of leadership could ever hold a candle to those leaders with more splashy and vibrant, or aggressive and commanding styles.  My confidence sank.  I started over-evaluating my conversations and responses.  And that hyper-vigilance shaped the way I navigated every professional and relational endeavor for the next 15 years.

But here's the thing: after all that time trying to conform myself to what I perceived as an ideal professional image, I've come to the stark realization that nothing about my hard-wiring needs fixing.  This isn’t a justification or an argument for the flawed parts of my personality; I don’t get a free pass to treat people poorly or behave inappropriately “because that’s just how I am.”  And on the flip side, I don’t get to blame other people for treating me poorly because I didn’t have the courage to speak up. 

We’re all called to grow and become more glorious versions of ourselves – not better versions of someone else.  I am exactly who I am.  Yet how often did I allow my environment to tell me I would have been much happier/better/more successful as somebody else?  We live in a gilded social media world that praises loud, fast, and snarky, and hails provocative content as king.  It’s the most sinister fertile soil for weeds of insecurity and alter-ego. 

Not funny anymore

The old joke around our house was that my husband married me because I’m nice.

It used to be funny.  Until our whole marriage fell apart and I got completely sick and tired of being nice.  In the real world, in a real damaging way, the person I trusted most mistook my kindness for weakness.  It was my last straw.  My ill-advised solution was to throw on my badass cape and make some really arrogant, desperate, bad decisions that cost me everything I cared about.   

The irony isn’t lost on me that in order to put it all back together, I had to draw deep from the well of kindness.  The thing I’m actually good at.

I had gotten so good at projecting what I thought was the opposite of kindness – badassery – that I missed every opportunity to maximize my own authentic potential.  I settled for a hollow image of superiority rather than a deep-rooted true confidence in who I really am. 

Who I am – and who you really are – is remarkable.

The kindness chip in my personality is more than "nice." It's gentleness for a maxed-out, spiraling child. It's patience for a stressed or hurting partner. It's forgiveness for words said in the heat of the moment.  It’s humility to share the spotlight with others and willingness to give more of yourself than you expect to receive in return.  It’s masterful ability to navigate hard conversations and comfort fragile feelings.  It's choosing to believe the best about people and trusting them with the most tender pieces of yourself.  

It takes a lot of guts to tap into true kindness, gentleness, patience, and humility because it makes you vulnerable to wounds.  It’s easy to get eaten up by people less mindful of softer personalities.  And when that happens (because it will), fight the instinct to throw on your badass cape.  Instead, go back to the drawing board on how you can be a better advocate for yourself.  Refine your communication.  Reset and clarify some boundaries.  Practice saying no.  Be specific about what is and is not okay.  You can be kind and not be a doormat.  This is teaching people how to treat you. 

Unlearning image and learning authenticity

I’m still learning how to use kindness as my superpower.  It started with lots of unlearning, actually.  Sometimes I trusted the wrong people and failed to set healthy boundaries.  I allowed myself to be taken advantage of.  I didn’t speak up when I felt disrespected.  I cared too much about what other people thought.  I sacrificed my own needs to dangerous ends.  

And then sometimes I see someone’s aggression coming and I overcorrect.  I cut people with words.  I throw up too-thick-too-tall boundary walls and live scared behind them.  I get self-righteous and critical.  I go back to that old caped-up version of myself.  I still mess this up.  Probably will until the end of time.   

Yet I’m practicing better every day.  Kindness doesn’t mean submissiveness.  Gentleness doesn’t mean spinelessness.  Patience doesn’t mean laziness.  Now I understand that kindness means speaking directly, honestly, timely, and with no room for confusion.  Gentleness means listening with compassion and honoring what’s lovely in the other person.  Patience means carefully waiting and choosing not to act on impulse. 

These are qualities I’d admire in any leader.  No matter how colorful or how calm their style. 

What’s your superpower?

If you’re that tender person too, who feels itchy and uncomfortable when you put on your badass cape, or any other disguise that makes you feel more like someone else you think is “better,” please throw that disguise away.  It doesn’t look good on you, just like mine doesn’t look good on me… because it doesn’t really fit. 

Whatever that softer side of you is, that’s your real superpower.  It's just as valuable as any other bold characteristic in our more outspoken friends.  Your superpower might be kindness, like mine.  Or it might be prudence, or generosity, or listening, or perspective.  The big loud world doesn’t like to hold much space for these quiet strengths.  But they’re the healing medicine people need for their tired, hurting hearts.    

How much more fulfilling would our relationships, our work, our dreams and goals be, if we chose to intentionally cultivate those softer superpowers as our greatest strengths? 

What’s yours?

HP,

J

shuffle the deck | making room for what inspires you | evaluating priorities
Jun 21

Shuffle the deck (and get your priorities in order)

By Jessica Allen | Life

I filled out an online questionnaire last week that included the question: To what extent has Covid-19 affected your life? (Mildly, Moderately, Significantly)

My ink-blot reaction was "Mildly."  We're safe, we're healthy, and wearing a mask is the least we can do.  We both work from home and our children do not require special educational services.  Anything we need we can order online or do without, we're good cooks, and we know how to keep our house clean(ish).  All that hard marriage work we've done over the last several years has brought us closer together instead of ripping each other apart in such close quarters.  So other than a minor initial panic over not being able to find diapers anywhere, and thoroughly missing our regular date night, Covid-19 has not altered our life in a way I would consider "significant."

Except... it totally has.

I stared at that questionnaire on my laptop screen with a growing lump in my throat.

Because I slowly realized that this season of retreat has brought perhaps the most significant change to my priorities in quite some time.

Priorities

I suspect you, like me, spent some time in quarantine evaluating your life. What am I doing? Why am I doing it? Do I love it? Is it serving me and my family? Is it serving the right people and purpose? What's the ROI (return on investment) of my time and energy? If I say no to this thing, or that thing, what could I say yes to? What do I want to return to normal? What do I hope never becomes "normal" again?

If Covid-19 hasn't caused you to re-examine your priorities, I hope it’s because they’re so meticulously in order that there's no reason to reflect.  Sometimes they absolutely are and that's called a "sweet spot!"  Yay you!

But if you, like me, find yourself with a strange hand of cards prompting you to shuffle the deck, remove the Jokers, and strategically plan your next play, I tip my cap to you. It takes guts to change the game.  Especially when the other players at the table don’t quite understand.

All this is to say, I've drastically shifted my professional priorities. And the short version is: you'll be seeing me a lot more here in the Heartfully Present world. Look for a website redesign coming late summer, and more content to help us all move forward and toward a more present, ordered, and peace-filled life. I love writing on grief and marriage.  I don't think I'll ever run out of things to say.  But I can’t help but wonder if this total shake-up is making room for something new too.  

What inspires you

I saved a little notecard a few weeks back and it reads: “I will let go of what is no longer serving me and make room for what inspires me.”  It struck me when I found it, because when I thought about it, I couldn’t even come up with what inspires me. 

That’s not good. 

My life, my mind, my heart, and my priorities had all gotten so cluttered and rigid that I couldn’t even make a list of what lights me up from the inside.  I chewed on that for a good while.  And I finally realized that this is one of those predictable moments in my life where God is patiently waiting for me to release my death grip on the reins of control (or my illusion of control).  I don’t get to see the next twist on the path until I decide I’m tired of trying to figure it out myself. 

So I let go. 

And now I will wait.  I’m resisting the urge to book up my time, my schedule, or my mind with “fillers” that will only clutter it all up again.  The goal here is peace… stillness… clarity… trust… and willingness to do things differently.  Just because it worked for the first part of my life doesn’t mean there’s something else in store for the next.  And it's okay to change the activities that line up with your priorities.  I'm finding my priorities stay fairly consistent, but as my life shifts, I have to carefully adjust my commitments to stay in alignment with what brings me peace.       

Significance

So back to that questionnaire…

I unchecked “mildly” and clicked “significantly.”  Without the opportunity to elaborate any further at all on the survey, yes: Covid-19 has significantly affected my life.  I never would have chosen this interruption of routine.  But sometimes we need an interruption to reconsider what we’re so focused on in the first place.  

What are you so focused on?  Is it inspiring you?  Or at least moving you in the direction of something that could?  If you are headed in the right direction, what do you need to keep or shelve in order to stay on track?  And how are things – how are you - going to be different and better in the going-forward?

I’d love to know what’s bubbled up for you during this season of interruption.  Did your priorities shift, or become more clear?  Do you find yourself wanting to adjust your commitments or activities in any way? 

May our Covid-19 lives be “significantly affected” for the better.

HP,

J

A final thought

Though we’ve been fortunate and healthy in our home, as I hope you have been too, I acknowledge Covid-19 is real and it’s still a large and looming problem.  Keep staying home, and wear a mask if you have to go out.  These are the most minor of “inconveniences” and you can literally save someone’s life by putting forth just the tiniest effort and care.  While you’re at home, call or send a note to someone you know needs a pick-me-up.  Loneliness is just as real and just as significant a threat as Covid-19.  We don’t get through this life without each other.

PS: I wrote a book on grief, and while it centers on child loss, it will help any person navigate through the 5 stages of grief of any kind. This season has been challenging in many ways and riddled with loss. You can find a copy of Joy Comes in the Mourning for yourself or a friend here.

growth is a choice | personal growth | lobster graphic
Jun 10

Growth is a choice

By Jessica Allen | Life

You can’t change the world until you change yourself. And change through personal growth is the most necessary, challenging, time-intensive, intentional, and fulfilling work there is. (Not surprisingly, all the elbow-grease required is why so many people are afraid to dig into this kind of personal work.  It’s like going to the gym – it doesn’t work if you blitz hard on 1 day and then sit on the couch for the following 364.)

Read, listen, learn, ask questions, step forward, make mistakes, apologize, get up, and try again – with double the determination. Once you accept the truth that you are going to blow it (over and over), it makes the idea of failing forward a little less paralyzing and even… a little exciting.  Because when you mess up, you learn, and the more you learn, the stronger and better you get.  

2 beautiful benefits of personal growth

Wanna know a beautiful thing about growth? You can literally be a better version of yourself every single passing moment. What you thought, said, or did even five minutes ago has no hold on you when you’re constantly evolving into the person you’re meant to be.

Wanna know the MOST beautiful thing about growth? It doesn’t live in a vacuum. When you know better, you’ll do better, and you’ll spill out what you’ve learned onto and into the people and spaces around you. When you change yourself, it will also change your family, your work, your mission, your vision, and your future… and those things are all attached to other people too.

I love my people enough to spend the time learning from wise voices in order to soften my own edges and sharpen my own iron. I believe so much in how interconnected we are that I’ll keep challenging my own comfortable thoughts and behaviors, because I want to be useful to God and his work in the world.  I want to be rock-solid in my convictions and flexible in my methods because any good change and influence has to come from awareness and LOVE.

Growth requires a rumble

If there is anything in your heart holding you back from love, it needs examination. It’s worth the wrestle.  We’re not supposed to be the same from age 18 until age 100.  Aging is guaranteed – but growth and change are a choice.  Do you think differently about something today than you did a year ago?  GOOD.  It means you’re learning.  Do you think differently about big ideas than your family of origin, your nuclear family, or your extended family?  GREAT.  It means you’re uniquely positioned to keep tricky conversations going and model grace and courage in the process. 

Or, do you have no idea what you actually think/believe in the first place?  EVEN BETTER.  This means you have a new-as-a-born-baby opportunity to open your mind, start at ground zero, and shape your own ideas.  Pull in trusted voices; they are the ones writing, speaking, leading, teaching, and likely not sharing inflammatory content or ripping other people apart on social media.  Journal.  Ask hard questions of yourself.  Press on your beliefs, especially the ones you’ve never really examined recently (or ever, in your adult life). 

The longer you’ve held onto an idea, the harder it can feel to let it go if it’s time to do so. 

Lobsters (yes, lobsters)

Here’s a little nature story, because we really are all interconnected:

Did you know lobsters have to shed their shells as they grow?  They get uncomfortable in their too-small shell, crawl under a rock, molt out of the shell, absorb water and expand their bodies, and produce a new shell.  Lobsters do this about 25 times until fully grown. Constant growing, shedding, recreating.

This is how humans grow, too.  We’re nudged to the point of discomfort by events, ideas, people, or the holy spirit. 

But what happens to us next, unlike lobsters, is optional.

We can write the discomfort off as inconvenience or irritation, and continue as if nothing happened. 

OR

We can choose to pause, step back, learn and process, and then… we grow.  

So the discomfort you feel in your own skin goes far beyond inconvenience or irritation.  It’s a literal invitation to cast off an old way of thinking and expand into a more evolved version of yourself. 

Also, once you shed the old shell, there’s no way you can squeeze back in.   You can’t unlearn what you know now, and you can’t unlive what you just experienced. 

This showing up for your own life.

Showing up for growth isn’t easy, but it’s simple

Showing up for my own life is more simple than I want to believe.  I don’t have to have all the answers, or do any of it right the first time.  I literally just have to show up and be willing to try.

And when I show up for my own life, with my mind and heart open, and a spirit of willingness, I get to trust that every step I take will bring me to a place where I can see the next step after that.  I get to believe that each particular piece of the process is teaching me everything I need to learn before I get to go further. 

Or, you can stay in the same shell your entire life, if you choose.  Nobody is going to make you change.  (Case in point: women have been trying to change men from the dawn of civilization and it does not work.)

Growth is hard.  But it’s way more exciting, more promising, more rewarding, and more full of potential than staying comfortable could ever be. 

Show up for your own life.  Be willing.  That’s all it takes.   

HP,

J

You can’t change the world until you change yourself. And change through personal growth is the most necessary, challenging, time-intensive, intentional, and fulfilling work there is. (Not surprisingly, all the elbow-grease required is why so many people are afraid to dig into this kind of personal work.  It’s like going to the gym – it doesn’t work if you blitz hard on 1 day and then sit on the couch for the following 364.)

Read, listen, learn, ask questions, step forward, make mistakes, apologize, get up, and try again – with double the determination. Once you accept the truth that you are going to blow it (over and over), it makes the idea of failing forward a little less paralyzing and even… a little exciting.  Because when you mess up, you learn, and the more you learn, the stronger and better you get.  

Wanna know a beautiful thing about growth? You can literally be a better version of yourself every single passing moment. What you thought, said, or did even five minutes ago has no hold on you when you’re constantly evolving into the person you’re meant to be.

Wanna know the MOST beautiful thing about growth? It doesn’t live in a vacuum. When you know better, you’ll do better, and you’ll spill out what you’ve learned onto and into the people and spaces around you. When you change yourself, it will also change your family, your work, your mission, your vision, and your future… and those things are all attached to other people too.

I love my people enough to spend the time learning from wise voices in order to soften my own edges and sharpen my own iron. I believe so much in how interconnected we are that I’ll keep challenging my own comfortable thoughts and behaviors, because I want to be useful to God and his work in the world.  I want to be rock-solid in my convictions and flexible in my methods because any good change and influence has to come from awareness and LOVE.

If there is anything in your heart holding you back from love, it needs examination. It’s worth the wrestle.  We’re not supposed to be the same from age 18 until age 100.  Aging is guaranteed – but growth and change are a choice.  Do you think differently about something today than you did a year ago?  GOOD.  It means you’re learning.  Do you think differently about big ideas than your family of origin, your nuclear family, or your extended family?  GREAT.  It means you’re uniquely positioned to keep tricky conversations going and model grace and courage in the process. 

Or, do you have no idea what you actually think/believe in the first place?  EVEN BETTER.  This means you have a new-as-a-born-baby opportunity to open your mind, start at ground zero, and shape your own ideas.  Pull in trusted voices; they are the ones writing, speaking, leading, teaching, and likely not sharing inflammatory content or ripping other people apart on social media.  Journal.  Ask hard questions of yourself.  Press on your beliefs, especially the ones you’ve never really examined recently (or ever, in your adult life). 

The longer you’ve held onto an idea, the harder it can feel to let it go if it’s time to do so. 

Here’s a little nature story, because we really are all interconnected:

Did you know lobsters have to shed their shells as they grow?  They get uncomfortable in their too-small shell, crawl under a rock, molt out of the shell, absorb water and expand their bodies, and produce a new shell.  Lobsters do this about 25 times until fully grown. Constant growing, shedding, recreating.

This is how humans grow, too.  We’re nudged to the point of discomfort by events, ideas, people, or the holy spirit. 

But what happens to us next, unlike lobsters, is optional.

We can write the discomfort off as inconvenience or irritation, and continue as if nothing happened. 

OR

We can choose to pause, step back, learn and process, and then… we grow.  

So the discomfort you feel in your own skin goes far beyond inconvenience or irritation.  It’s a literal invitation to cast off an old way of thinking and expand into a more evolved version of yourself. 

Also, once you shed the old shell, there’s no way you can squeeze back in.   You can’t unlearn what you know now, and you can’t unlive what you just experienced. 

This showing up for your own life.

It’s more simple than I want to believe.  I don’t have to have all the answers, or do any of it right the first time.  I just have to show up.

And when I show up for my own life, with my mind and heart open, and a spirit of willingness, I get to trust that every step I take will bring me to a place where I can see the next step after that.  I get to believe that each particular piece of the process is teaching me everything I need to learn before I get to go further. 

Or, you can stay in the same shell your entire life, if you choose.  Nobody is going to make you change.  (Case in point: women have been trying to change men from the dawn of civilization and it does not work.)

Growth is hard.  But it’s way more exciting, more promising, more rewarding, and more full of potential than staying comfortable could ever be. 

Show up for your own life.  Be willing.  That’s all it takes.   

HP,

J

Enter your text here...

8 tips to stay sane in quarantine | house with heart on door | heartfully present
Mar 24

8 ways to keep from going crazy in quarantine

By Jessica Allen | Life

My guess is socialdistancing and quarantine will be the ultimate hashtags of 2020.  COVID-19 is here, ready or not.  

We’re all cooped up right now, which feels frustrating, and we’re inundated with news and information in every portal, which feels scary.  We’re watching our friends span the spectrum of “this is ridiculous” and still gathering (STOP PLEASE!) to “this is incredibly serious" and hoarding supplies, which feels confusing.  And we’re all of a sudden work-from-home parents, homeschool teachers, 24/7 entertainers, and short-order cooks… which feels exhausting.

It all happened so fast.  We saw it coming and yet maybe didn't believe it.  And now here we are, getting new information dropped on us every day about closures and directives and policies.  Every one of us is doing our best, juggling what we can, dropping some things, mastering others.  Eating weird snacks at weird times of the day.  Consuming too much social media.  Wondering why we were supposed to buy all that toilet paper.  Trying to keep a calm and orderly home and routine.  (Or maybe you already gave that up.  I can't remember the last time my big children took a bath.)

When the bomb drops

Many years ago, I was put on abrupt bed rest with my son.  He was showing signs of preterm birth, like our first son.  I went in for a routine visit on Maundy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter.  It’s one of our most involved church services of the year (I’m the orchestra conductor, a job I absolutely love) and I was looking forward to donning my gorgeous black suit and serving in music ministry with my people that evening.

Instead, I was sent home with strict instructions to lay flat and don’t move.  For 6 weeks. 

I wish I could tell you I handled it with grace and maturity.

That would be a lie.

I cried in the office.  I negotiated with my doctor, promising I would sit on a chair for that evening’s service, and then rest like a good patient afterwards.

She (and my husband) gave me a kind and very emphatic “no.”  Hers was more kind.  His was more emphatic.

So we drove home where I immediately curled up on the couch and pouted.  Jack left to go get some groceries (and surprised me later that afternoon with a brand new cozy recliner, which still rocks in our nursery today). 

I survived that bed rest experience, delivered my healthy baby boy right on time, lived to tell the tale, and of course looking back that 6 weeks of bed rest wasn’t that bad.  It was hard.  But I made it.  

Looking back on my own mini-quarantine

As we’re facing a likely quarantine announcement this week, I can feel my mind and spirit “remembering” what it was like staring down the barrel of a lonely season stuck inside away from so much of what I love. 

And that “remembering” feels like…

  • Pouting
  • Anxiety
  • Sadness (low-lying circumstantial depression)
  • Fear

Isolation is a killer.  Well, not exactly.  Isolation makes us vulnerable mentally, emotionally, spiritually.  And the enemy wiggles in wherever he can to start spreading lies faster than any virus.  Here’s a little excerpt from my book on this topic, which for me can still loom very large during challenging seasons like this one:

“Lies… masquerade as scary thoughts the enemy whispers when your heart is despairing.  The once you’re used to the whisper, he talks so softly the decibel shift is imperceptible.  And from there he gets louder and louder, little by little, until all that’s filling your head is a relentless screaming stream of lies.  This is depression.  Your brain over time becomes convinced of a reality that just isn’t so.  …. You can survive, it, and in order to do so, you have to recognize it and get help.”  - Joy Comes in the Mourning

I’ll get to “things that actually help” in just a minute.  The biggest boost, though, is finding a sense of purpose

Sense of purpose during quarantine

I believe, because I have experienced it in my own life countless times, that human beings can navigate any crisis - even a homebound quarantine - as long as we keep a strong and clear sense of purpose. 

When we have purpose, when we know where we’re going, it’s easier to wake up in the morning and get pointed in the right direction.  In contrast, if we have no purpose, no aim, and no direction, we spin in circles, wandering aimlessly, unclear on who we are or what we’re doing.  This aimlessness is, in my non-licensed opinion, a huge part of why people feel and get and stay depressed.  (I am also of the opinion that depression is real, sometimes its chemical grip on your brain is so intense, and healthy people get help in the form of medication and/or counseling.)

When routines shift and roles change, the hats we wear look different.  It’s easy for me to sink into a mental hole where my most prevalent thought is: “what’s the point, anyway?”  I know this about myself.  I hate this about myself.  But I recognize it now, and can offset it with some very simple redirections. 

Here’s what I learned on bed rest, and what I’m using now to keep my mind in check:

8 Things I Learned on Bed Rest (that kept me from going crazy)

1. This virus and quarantine season is temporary.

We’re protecting our community.  This quarantine goes beyond our individual selves and honors the most vulnerable in our midst… although the way this virus is spreading, we’re all at risk.  Staying home, washing hands, flattening the curve… these precautions are protecting our loved ones as well as the medical community.  The quicker we can stop the spread, the faster our local economies will recover.  The sooner people will be back to work.  The sooner we can let our children out of the house.  The sooner we can get back together with our friends.  We are doing this to stop the spread and protect each other.  This is temporary.  It won’t last forever.  Not if we all do our part. 

2. Remember WHY you do what you do.

Are you a teacher?  A parent?  An essential employee still working?  An employee on furlough?  An entrepreneur or business owner?  A servant in ministry, social work, politics?  A medical professional?  What you do matters.  Even still.  Perhaps now more than ever.  Your work in the world is important.  The people whose lives you touch are depending on your service.  What you offer in service to others cannot be done by anyone else, because there is only one you.  Keep your purpose clear.  Write it on the bathroom mirror and repeat it to yourself daily (100 times if you have to) so you don’t forget.  You're doing the most important work right now, which is supporting the entire community.  You're kind of a big deal.

3. Treat yo’self!

While I don’t recommend eating an entire box of Snickers ice cream bars daily (I HAVE NEVER DONE THAT, why would you ask?), find joy in the little things.  Cook a great meal.  Exercise where/how you can.  Dig in the dirt.  Watch the movie list you’ve never gotten to.  Paint your nails a color you’d never wear to work.  There’s no sense making a challenging season even harder by trying to diet, deprive, or ration yourself out of the things you enjoy.

4. Pick a goal.

On bed rest, my goals were limited.  My #1 goal was my purpose, which was to grow a big fat squishy healthy baby.  But beyond that, I had to get creative.  I decided to pick up a few fun goals: grow my fingernails out, organize my (self-owned) business office systems, get plenty of good sleep, and drink a certain amount of water every day.  Those little goals and check-boxes gave me a sense of accomplishment, which kept my confidence and spirits up.  A bit of unsolicited advice: don't make a cleaning goal right now.  You will feel immediately defeated.  

5. Be honest about how you think and feel.

Journal.  Talk it out.  Draw or create.  Be HONEST.  Especially if you serve in any kind of leadership, and guess what?  That’s EVERY ONE OF US.  You lead your family, your work, your ministry.  Strong people ask for help, they admit when they need a break, and they take care of themselves so they can pour into others.  We’re useless to the people we love if we burn out in exhaustion, stress, anxiety, or depression.  

**If your home is filled with uneasiness of strained relationships right now, my prayers are with you.  Keep safe zones – a conflict-free physical space, a quiet “personal corner” you can retreat to, and some healthy boundaries on time/place for tough conversations.  If you need help, reach out. 

6. Fill your mind and ears with positive voices.

Podcasts, social accounts, books, TV shows, radio… it’s all a choice.  You control the dial.  What’s feeding your mind and soul every day?  If it makes you anything other than confident, stretched, curious, proud, present, informed, and optimistic, cut it out of your media diet.  The comparison game is a huge temptation right now since we're all so plugged into social media.  Give yourself the gift of some "unfollows."  They'll never know.  But it'll change your life for the better.  

Nobody has it "better" or "worse" than anyone else right now.  The absolute unkindest thing you can do is leverage your situation against someone else's to try and make yourself feel better, more pulled-together, smarter, healthier, etc.  It will ultimately just make you feel worse.  With comparison comes judgement, and with judgement comes resentment, and resentment puts chains on your spirit.  Set yourself free.  

7. Keep a loose and forgiving routine.

Self care is important.  Routine is good for humans, even and especially during something stressful like a quarantine.  Brush your teeth.  Put on your face (and clean clothes).  Take breaks.  Give yourself something to look forward to.  Chew and taste your food sitting down at normal mealtimes so you don’t starve or overeat.  Take a nap.  Work in pockets and break it up with a dance party or phone call to your friends or a yoga session.  Go to bed when it gets dark.  Wake up when it gets light.  This season is temporary, remember?  So you may as well give yourself the gift of a healthy and self-loving routine.

Now is also a good time to release some unrealistic expectations of what this homebound season is going to be like.  You'll set yourself free.  

8. Keep perspective and stay in gratitude.

When your sense of purpose stays clear, and you remember this is only temporary, you’ve paved the path for a grateful heart.  This quarantine is rocking our whole world but ultimately, we’re so blessed.  We have the food we need, the supplies to last, our health, our homes, our people, our careers (no matter how different they look right now), our leaders, our friends, and our futures.  

Feel your feelings... and then keep on keepin' on

On days you feel gripped by fear, because there will be days like that cooped up inside during a quarantine, feel what you feel, acknowledge it, tip your hat to it, and then walk away.  Shoving those feelings away does not work.  They will just come back later, even bigger and uglier.  Once you’ve acknowledged how you think and feel, choose a moment of gratitude.  What is blessing your life right this moment?  A pity party can last 4 minutes or 4ever.  I’ve done both. 

When my bed rest was over, I promise you I forgot about the challenges immediately.  I was so excited to be back in the world, back to myself, back in service to the people I love most. 

I didn’t think about the pain of bed rest again until last week, when those same feelings started creeping back in at the first mention of a possible quarantine.  We will all survive this.  And when it’s over, we’ll likely never take for granted another gathering, meeting, assignment, errand, or conversation.  We’ll look back on this in a year and laugh (maybe??!) about how bummed we were that we had to spend time resting inside. 

Our grandparents fought for global peace in World War II.  We’re being asked to stay inside and watch movies.  We can do this.  

Stay home.  Wash your hands.  Take care of yourself.  Love your people.  Keep your purpose clear.  And never forget how truly blessed and fortunate and loved you are. 

HP,

J

Monkey Mind | Elephant Rocks | childhood memory | unrest | thought life | reflection | personal growth
Mar 10

Restless thoughts and Elephant Rocks: a true childhood story

By Jessica Allen | Life

I got laid up with a nasty cold after an entire week of “writers block.”  But it’s never really writers block.  It’s monkey mind; restless thoughts gone completely unchecked.

When there’s something chewing at my mind or my spirit, I go quiet. Because when the inside noise gets loud, I can only make sense of it when I quiet the outside noise first.  I love connecting with people yet my most recharging gift to myself is time alone.  This frustrates me, because in a world with a husband, two young children, a toddler,  2 businesses, and a ministry, “time alone” is harder to find than “jeans that fit” or “a unicorn.” 

I actually posted some of my finest literary work on social recently: There were five minutes when no one needed me for anything.  Then they did.  The end.  (A Short Story for Moms Everywhere.)  I enjoyed those 5 glorious minutes absorbing vitamin D because I am like a houseplant that wilts for lack of sunshine.

It's frustrating to have to constantly budget my schedule for “time alone.”  Yet as I’ve earned more lived years on the planet I’ve learned to respect myself enough to honor my own simple need for quiet.  I saw this the other day and laughed out loud: 

restless thoughts | that moment you turn down the radio so you can see better

I know I'm not the only one.

Our brains have limitations

There’s actual science behind this meme.  Our instinct to down the radio in order to see better is just one example of our brain’s natural biological response when we need to focus.  Eliminate one processing “task” from its list (listening to music and lyrics) and it performs better at the more important task you’re asking it to accomplish (finding the turn you’re supposed to make).  Essentially: limit one sensory intake and you heighten another.  

Mental multi-tasking is super bad for our brains.  It causes restless thoughts, stress, and actual physical damage.  

So last week my monkey mind was swinging its restless thoughts from the trees.  And it’s no giant surprise I got sick afterwards.  I hadn't taken the time to get quiet and sort through the mental maze, and that unresolved anxiety stressed me out.  THIS IS WHAT STRESS DOES.  Stress makes us sick, and the correlation between stress and illness/disease is staggering and scary.  Mental and emotional stress take a bigger toll than we realize.  We have got to slow down and take care of ourselves.  Nobody else is going to.  (Although this morning my husband took the baby to swim lessons and threatened to take all my devices with him so I would take a nap.  I did take the nap and if you heard the faint sound of angels singing it was from my house.  The nap was glorious.)

I woke up with images from my childhood in mind.

Nostalgia

Isn’t it funny what we hold onto?  What sticks in our memory banks for unknown reasons, and then resurfaces when we least expect it?

I went to sleep with crazy restless thoughts, but what I woke up with is a peaceful and relatively frequent memory.  One with my grandparents when I was very young. 

My granddad was a Methodist minister in Missouri, a devoted servant of the church and impassioned voice for justice during his civil-rights-era ministry.  My grandmother served with him in every supporting role imaginable.  Her series of memoirs, beginning with Preacher’s Wife, is a historical and family treasure; in her books she shares stories of growing up as the only daughter of the owner of her rural town’s General Store and then her adult life as a wife and mother.  On holidays or other special occasions, she still sends written stories for us to add to our collections – most recently, a story about how my grandfather (newly deployed in WW2) still managed to send her flowers on Valentines Day. 

These stories are treasures. 

Homestead

I have sweet and special childhood memories of visiting “Homestead” in Terre du Lac, Missouri, nestled down a white-rock gravel road covered in Queen Anne’s Lace flowers, just a short walk or drive away from two small lakes we loved to swim and play in during the summer.  My parents’ retreat, Egret Acres, is modeled after Homestead – cut into the side of a hill so only the 2nd story is visible from the driveway, and the “downstairs” actually appears as though it’s underground.

My memory serves that we usually visited only in the summer, usually via road trip through the gorgeous Ozark mountains.  My granddad tended a beautiful vegetable garden in the front yard.  Fireflies came out at dusk and we never got tired of chasing them; a welcome contrast from Texas mosquitos.  

We played croquet (or some game that utilized croquet equipment) in the side yard and down the giant hill the house sat on.  Our favorite game trick was to use the cylindrical black plastic gutter pipe to redirect the croquet balls in wacky directions, and if you angled the pipe right down the hill, the balls would take a flying leap over anything you put at the bottom.  No one dared run down the hill though, because at the end were thorny brambles so thick you'd get your clothes stuck inside.  And we had no idea what lay hidden in the forest behind them.  

There was a creepy house across the street we thought was haunted, although in my adult life I realize it was probably just occupied by a hoarder.  They had a screened-in porch that contained all kinds of weird items, the most visible of which was a vacuum cleaner that for some reason felt very scary to me as a kid. 

Family memories

Whether it was just my little family of origin visiting, or my mother’s 3 siblings (and our 7 other cousins) joined us, there was always something fun to do.  We churned homemade ice cream on the downstairs porch, put on plays and dressed up in my grandmother’s square-dancing costumes, and listened to her play piano in the basement.  Every note was right in her head and if I could ever invent something magic, I’d invent something to unlock and store her mind forever.

We played Pit around the kitchen table with the leaves put in and rocked in the wooden porch swing piled on top of each other.  We marveled at the giant glass General Store jar that held Pensacola sand and shells and tried not to smash our fingers in the roll-top desk.  I don't ever remember watching TV.  We just played.   

My grandparents had that classic beautiful amber-colored glassware and my grandmother was (is) an incredible cook.  I can still remember the way the house smelled.  I have such good memories there.  

Elephant Rocks

One summer when we were visiting, my grandparents took my sister and me to a place called Elephant Rocks.  It’s a geological state park that features billion-year-old boulders standing end to end, like elephants.  There’s a ton of neat mining and railroad history there, which of course we sisters did not care one bit about.  We were fascinated by the giant rocks.  

We arrived and ate my grandmother’s ham salad sandwiches for lunch and then set out exploring in nature’s beautiful noisy quiet.  Right near our picnic there was a wide and shallow stream with a rocky riverbed that had stepping stones to a giant boulder right in the middle of the water.  I’m sure we were scolded for venturing in, up, and on top of the rock, but this is the memory and image cemented in my mind.

This picture pops into my head often and after a week of restless thoughts and now illness, it visited again today.  I think it shows up as an oasis, a peace offering, or maybe just a clear SOS from my inner psyche begging me to calm the $&%@ down. 

Quiet the restless thoughts and find the lesson

If we’re willing to look for it, there’s significance everywhere, and in everything.  I love when God uses the simplest things to open my eyes: this sweet little memory that bubbles up like spring water even into my adult life.  

Am I the rock?  Am I the climber?  Am I the water?

Am I the rock, solid and secure, confident and strong, immovable and unchanging?

Am I the climber, adventurous and unafraid, willing and eager, tossing caution to the wind, eager to see the world from new heights?

Am I the water, steady and constant, clear and calm, quietly reshaping and renewing my landscape as I go?

I’m all of them, I think.  So are we all.  Each in our own time, in different seasons. 

I wish I had a picture of Elephant Rocks for you.  It’s stunningly beautiful.  In the words of my good friend, “Google that $#!%.”  

Interestingly and coincidentally, My mom has been sending me old pictures frequently.  Funny; yesterday she sent one of my Grandmother holding G as a newborn, and today came one of my Grandfather holding my 3-year-old hand in front of the waves in Pensacola (where we were supposed to be for Spring Break this week until the weather turned awful).  

There is nothing restless in those two pictures.  Quite the opposite actually: these two photographs are the most beautiful illustrations of peace, love, comfort, relaxation, contentment, presence, and joy.

Sort through the discomfort

As Lent begins, I’m grateful for the opportunity to take stock of my life and my faith.  This past week has been uncomfortable, but the good kind of uncomfortable.  The kind of uncomfortable that taps at you until you stop to pay it the attention it deserves.  For me that discomfort usually means I need to take inventory of my thoughts, or reconsider something I was certain I knew.  (This requires awareness, humility, understanding, compassion, and often an apology.  I am terribly bad at all of these things.)  

Or sometimes that discomfort is pressing me to release something I’m holding onto in my heart that is keeping me from peace in my relationships.  (And this requires honesty, spoken words, admission of hurt, request for forgiveness or reconciliation. I am even WORSE at these things.  Speaking up for my own feelings feels incredibly scary.  What if no one cares?  Or worse, what if they say “no?”)

Our minds and bodies and souls are incredible creations.  They know before we do when something is wrong.  Ignoring them only causes us pain, sickness, heartache, and creates obstacles in the way of creativity and peace.  We can’t create anything good out of chaos.  Restless thoughts don't make for easy reading.  And therein lies my case of writer’s block. 

Listen to your thoughts

I don’t really know what was causing my monkey mind.  Maybe a wild schedule, or some old dusty skeletons that tried to come play.  (Note: 10 days have now passed since I originally wrote this piece, and I have realized EXACTLY what restless thoughts were - and still are - chewing on my internal wiring; that's a different story for another day.) 

I’ll continue to listen patiently for the right answer and learn from its whispering.  And in the meantime, I’ll keep drinking hot tea and doing my part to shine light into my own little corner of the world while I’m working on “homework” for two big upcoming projects: one on prayer and one on spiritual leadership within the family.  You know, little light topics.  Send cookies.  

HP,

J

1 2 3 5