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Category Archives for "Life"

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

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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

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

Turkey and De-stressing: How minimize holiday stress

By Jessica Allen | Family , Life

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

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

Tips to manage holiday stress

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

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

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

Leave these things at home: 

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

If you really just can’t even…

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

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

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

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

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

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

who made you the expert | inferiority complex
Nov 21

Who made YOU the expert?

By Jessica Allen | Life

This is one of my favorite graphics of all time:

day in the life of an entrepreneur | emotional wheel | emotional management | personal growth

I love this graph for the reassurance and laugh it gives me as an entrepreneur but I really do think it resonates with every human person on the planet - not just business owners.

How many times a day (a minute?!) do we all go through that mental and emotional cycle?  

A friend corrected me yesterday when I let some verbal self-abuse come pouring out of my mouth.  My children know to correct me, and their daddy, and each other, when this happens too.

There’s just no reason to beat ourselves up so.  

The meanest person I know

If I had to honestly answer the question: “Who’s the meanest person you know?”, I’d have to say…. MYSELF.

I am meaner to myself than any other person in my life.  Well, almost any other person in my life.  We all have those poo-poo-list people who have done us a doozy or two.

I can rationalize that self-criticism away by reminding myself I am an aspiring high-achiever, a first-born, a recovering perfectionist, and I want to be the best at everything.  (This is a recipe for the world's version of success but really super unhealthy if it’s not balanced by self-care and perspective and compassion for others, btw.)

But ultimately the reason I’m so hard on myself is because of lingering insecurity.  I want to be taken seriously, I want to be seen as an authority or a leader in my field, I want to make a difference, I don’t want to feel left out or left behind.  I’m constantly self-scanning for points of weakness and building armor over them so I won’t be picked apart or found out or criticized or debunked.  

OUCH THAT IS HARD TO SAY IN REAL LIFE.  But it’s the truth, and that’s what we tell here.  The truth.  

Who made you the expert?

Rachel Hollis, the famed speaker and author behind Girl, Wash Your Face and Girl, Stop Apologizing, recently experienced a major troll on her social media.  Someone asked her essentially, “who made YOU the expert?

Her response stuck with me, because it is strong, inspiring, honest, and right on the money.

She replied, I DID.  (Now I'll paraphrase here:) I made MYSELF the expert.  I built a business from the ground up, with blood, sweat, and tears, and learned it all the hard way with good honest hard work. 

Essentially, you don’t need the fancy degree or the title or the certifications – what qualifies you in any field is hard-earned, nose-to-the-grindstone, elbows-dirty experience.  

I grab onto this idea EVERY DAY.  

I wonder sometimes who would ever take me seriously in the realms of grief, marriage recovery, and personal development.  I have a music degree, for goodness’ sake.

But do you know what else I have?

EXPERIENCE. 

  • I walked (still walk) the broken road of losing a child.
  • I have bloody knees from a nearly-failed marriage.
  • I built a business from the ground up, have relied on it as our sole income, and have shown other people how to do it too.
  • I have taken a leap of faith to follow a crazy wild-hare dream.
  • I have made mistakes, some private, and some very, very public.
  • I have gotten a lot wrong in the pursuit of learning how to get it right.  
  • I have worked on myself.  I have allowed other professionals to help me work on myself too.
  • I have gussied up courage to tell my story, with nothing held back.

We're all experts

So who made me the expert on grief and heartfully present living?  I DID.  By simply living my life with determination, humility, willingness, faith, courage, fear, confidence, love, and an open mind and heart.  

Which begs the question: who made YOU the expert on your magnificent life’s pursuit?  Whether it's child-rearing, relationships, education, politics, business, ministry, health care, sales, service, or art?

YOU DID.  And you’re continuing to prove your expertise every day.   

Keep going.  What you’re doing matters.

From one expert to another, 

HP,

J

OMGOSH my book is almost out into the world and I can't wait for you to read it! If you want to be part of the launch team, drop me a note, subscribe to our Happy Mail Club, and mark your calendars for December 3!  XO&HP, J

And, if you're not on our Heartfully Present Facebook page yet, we miss you and we need you and we hope you'll come play.  :). The world and the internet are a mess of wildly strange and confusing things, and our little community is a sweet breath of edifying fresh air!

Why I Write | woman writing | find your purpose
Aug 20

Why I Write

By Jessica Allen | Faith , Life

There is something wonderfully intimate about written words.  When you look carefully at something handwritten, you can sense feeling in the curve of each stroke.  Even in type print, you can feel a writer’s emotions in the words they have laid on the page.

When I read my Granddad’s old sermons I loved watching his thoughts unfold on the paper. Throughout his 40-year ministry he crafted each message, by hand of course, scratching out and rewriting as I believe the Holy Spirit must have led him. To read his work from beginning to end was a gaze into the windows of his heart and the evolution of his faith. Reading his work in his own handwriting made it all the more personal and special.

So for me, as much as I love podcasts and audiobooks, there is no substitute for written word.

Since I can remember I have always turned to pen and paper in times when my heart spills over.  Where my own distracted mind and unreliable memory often fail, writing never does.

Things that confound my understanding look a little simpler in my own script.

What tears my heart in two seems easier to mend when I see it in ink. 

So I trust the page. Because nothing makes sense in my head or heart until I get it there. 

Once it’s on paper, it’s no longer imagined, exaggerated, minimized, or distorted.  It’s real.  Just as it is, just as I see it, no more, and no less.  And once it’s real I can deal with it.  I can give it a name and assign it a feeling.  Even when I don’t understand it, I can watch it take shape in words, and I can hand those words to God.  They don’t have to be pretty (usually they aren’t) or even appropriate (happens more than you think). 

My gift is my song and this one’s for you

Those words become my prayers.  The song that I sing back to the One who made us.  Those prayers – that song – is full of wrong notes, broken chords, awkward pauses, and shaky entrances.  It’s riddled with uncertainty but fueled by an unwavering belief that it matters.  

Because there’s something in me whispering to be set free.   A voice in my soul that travels through my heartstrings and out through my fingertips.  A voice that is mine and mine only, unblemished by anyone else’s expectations or needs or beliefs or ambitions. 

The older I get, the more persistent that voice becomes.  Events and experiences in my adulthood continue to challenge everything I thought I knew about my life, my faith, my convictions, my relationships, and my calling. 

That’s a lot of noise rumbling in my head and heart. 

And when that noise rises to deafening levels, it’s easy to overwhelm and shut down.  It’s tempting to muffle it, distract from it, dismiss it altogether.  But then I miss the magic.  I miss the opportunity to learn from it, grow through it, mold it into something beautiful I can offer back into the world. 

What is wisdom gained from our experiences if not a gift we pay forward?

Why I write: to shine light in the dark

Left inside myself, everything I know and think and feel is hoarded… muzzled… censored… wasted

To have been blessed with the love and faith I’ve been given, and clutch it close to myself, would be my failure as a witness to the power of God’s love and grace in my life. 

To own these stories of hope and choose not to share them would be valuing my own comfort over someone else’s despair.

If there’s even the tiniest chance this little lighthouse can shine a way for someone else, then I will keep the candle burning. 

That candle is the light I wish I had seen in the dark.  Comfort I needed when we lost our son.  A shake of the shoulders I needed when I almost lost my marriage.  Compassion I needed as I wrestled with changing beliefs.  Permission I needed to be exactly myself when I couldn’t recognize the face in the mirror.  Patience I needed when I learned the hard way.  And the truth that I needed when my questions brought me to my knees.

But yet I am learning, over and over and over again, that for some questions I may never in this lifetime receive a satisfying answer. There’s a piece of me in heaven and the rest of me down here and I don’t know if that’s something I will ever reconcile in my human mind.

Thus forward in faith I go.

So why do I write?

I write because my heart says to write and I can’t ignore her any longer.  No matter who reads it, or if anyone ever does.  The measure of its impact is not for me to decide, nor does its “success” or “failure” determine my worth.  I don’t even have to understand its ultimate purpose or see a clear path in front of me. 

My only responsibility is simply to offer it up.   

The rest is up to Him.

HP,

J

PS: This is why I write. So why do you do what you do?  Do you believe it matters?  Because it does, more than you could imagine. Try putting your “why” on paper.  You might surprise yourself. If you’d like a little extra help and inspiration, try this: Who am I (and who do I want to become)?

YOU are also why I write. For there is something in you too that is whispering to be set free.

Carry on, dear one.  You’re right where you are supposed to be.

Why I Write | typewriter and blank paper | find your purpose
Find your purpose | man on mountain | what's your why
time management tips for work from home moms
Jul 16

Time Management for Dummies (Smarties)

By Jessica Allen | Life

Today we’re talking time management. Time management for dummies. Time management for smarties, actually… because anyone intent on learning how to better manage their time is wiser than most.

When you can manage your time, money, and emotions well, the rest of life tends to fall much better into place.

I wrote a piece for my friend Ashleigh over at Smart Cents Mom on the nuts and bolts of my work-from-home time management strategies. This is everything I’ve learned from seasoned mentors, as well as my own experience as a work-from-home mom. Entrepreneurship is the best job on the planet but it can make you crazy if you don’t have a good grip on your time and energy output.

Multiply that crazy times infinity if you’re throwing small children in the mix. (The baby is chewing my arm while I’m typing this right now.) There are countless distractions throughout the day threatening to derail any train of thought and I’ve watched more people than I can say become frustrated to the point of throwing in the towel (with their businesses, not with their children). I’ve learned as I’ve grown, and my business and strategies have evolved right along with my life and family.

I don’t believe we’re supposed to “do it all” in life. But you can do what fuels you – all the important things – when you find a healthy equilibrium between them all. Notice I did not say “balance.” Balance is a lie and a surefire setup for frustration. In equilibrium, parts are ever-shifting all the time in harmony, making room for what must take priority in the right-now.

All this is to say: I have strong feelings on this topic of time management. Because poor time management sinks ships. But time managed well will let any dream or project take flight.

I hope you’ll give my guest piece a read, and while you’re there, check out the rest of what’s happening at Smart Cents Mom! Time Management for Work From Home Moms (or, how to keep your sanity and love your life)

HP,

J

PS: Need a good tool for getting on track? Try this. Pen and paper taped to my fridge has never once steered me wrong.

time management tips for work from home moms
sleeping baby | 9 month old baby | bouncing back after having a baby at 35
Jul 05

9 months out: bouncing back at thirty-something

By Jessica Allen | Family , Life

All I ever wanted was to be a mom.

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

The myth of bouncing back

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

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

I am tired. 

I loathe that phrase, I really do.

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

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

And I think that’s okay.

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

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

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

Mental work

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isn’t that better than bouncing back?

HP,

J

Elisha: 9 months out

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

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

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