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Category Archives for "Life"

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.
Build better belief | solid footing | Belief in marriage | Belief in faith | Belief in confidence
Jun 21

Build better belief

By Jessica Allen | Life , Marriage

When G was 5, we had her in gymnastics.  A favorite treat after class was playing at the nearby park before we went home. 

The monkey bars totally freaked her out.  Until one day she hitched herself up and literally yelled to the entire neighborhood I BELIEVE IN MYSELF!  As she swooped across those bars like it was nothing and dropped down at the end, she stood about 6 inches taller than she was when she started.  I snapped a photo after she made her claim – this has always been one of my favorite pictures of her.  I love the look of determination and solid belief on her face. 

girl with belief on monkey bars | solid grip
G, wiser at 5 than I am at 35.

If only we could remember to claim our belief with that much confidence into adulthood.

I know what I believe when things are good.  But when life gets “lifey” as my friend Michelle says, it’s harder to claim belief and find solid ground. 

So what’s the one belief you hold onto?

Through tough business cycles, I remind myself that my leadership matters.

When ministry feels hard, I step back to admit I am really doing it all for an audience of One.

When friendships fade or fray, I continue to believe that the right people will stick no matter what.

On days where I’ve been more Evil Stepmother than Mary Poppins, I am grateful that despite my imperfections, God made me the perfect mother for my children.

As our marriage hits bumps in the road, I find solid footing on my tried-by-fire knowledge that we’ve already made it through the worst of the worst. 

I did not always have this confidence or these beliefs, in any of these areas.

As I reflect on all I’ve learned (and am continuing to learn) in business, ministry, relationships, parenting, and marriage, I realize any confidence I’ve gained has grown out of the pain of disappointment.  But before I had confident footing on solid ground, all I had was shaky balance on a tiny stone.

You see, in times of new beginning or struggle or disappointment, sure footing is hard to find. 

When you don’t have much belief of your own, just grab onto what’s right within your reach.

As a baby business owner, all I had to hold onto was the training I was given.

When I was a new ministry leader, all I knew to tell myself was that someone was counting on me to show up.

When my first adult friendships broke, I had to repeat to myself over and over that seasons – and sometimes people – come and go, and that the right people will love me for me.  Even the ugly parts.

When I blew it big time as a mother of young children, I had to trust the veterans who said the kids won’t even remember what happened and I can try again better tomorrow.

And when my marriage was falling apart, all I could do was pray and hold on one more day. 

Change starts with you

When even one of these important areas of my life feels shaky, my whole life feels off-kilter.  Imagine what happens when more than one area is out of whack?  What happens when they’re all out of whack? 

I know it’s not pretty because that’s exactly what happened.  When the most important area to me (my marriage) got sideways, it threw off every single other area too.  It warped my whole life because it threw me off. 

When everything around you is going wrong, what’s the common denominator? 

When nothing changes, nothing changes.  And change starts with you.  What are you telling yourself? 

Your beliefs become your thoughts,

your thoughts become your words,

your words become your actions,

your actions become your habits,

your habits become your values,

your values become your destiny.

— Gandhi

Even the tiniest belief will do

Can I tell you what tiny bit of solid ground actually held our whole marriage mess together?  My unwavering belief that our little family is something special, even when the parents didn’t like each other much. 

That was the only sure thing I knew, and all I had.  Since I knew that to be true, my mind and heart could go to work finding more evidence to support that fact.  I could watch my husband talk and play with our children and build respect for him, one baseball practice at a time.  I could listen to him read to them at night and begin to hope and trust that he could offer me that kind of tenderness, too.  I could be vulnerable with small things and when he treated them with care, offer bigger pieces of my heart. 

Those little spots of solid ground slowly started to connect and form a pathway I could trust moving forward.  One tiny, and sometimes very scary, step at a time.  (All of this applied to me too, because he didn’t trust me an inch either.  I had to earn back his trust and confidence piece by piece just like he had to earn mine. His tiny unwavering belief? Well, I asked him. And though the belief he clung to was similar to mine, it had a slightly different angle and included a lot of very colorful words I should not type here. The point is, it doesn’t matter what you hold onto as long as it keeps you in the game and hopeful for the future.)

Claim belief, no matter how small, in every area that matters

Wherever you are in these areas of your life that matter most to you, find some footing – even if it’s one tiny toe on one tiny rock.  Choose to believe a new idea, or invest in it with better words and actions.  Try it.  It might hold weight after all.  And as you learn to trust your shaky foot on that tiny surface, you’ll find bigger and stronger footing as you go. 

You’ll learn to trust people.  You’ll learn to trust yourself.  You might even grow to believe better and stronger things about each situation (and person) as they prove themselves to be true.  It’s a slow build but when you stay faithful to the process, you’ll establish strength you never imagined possible.  Mental strength.  Emotional strength.  Spiritual strength (the best strength of all). 

What belief can you claim?  Let it bring you solid footing in all the ways that matter most. 

HP,

J

Reading List

Just so you know: these are affiliate links. If you choose to purchase a book through these links, you won’t pay a penny more, but I will receive a small commission that helps keep our little community thriving. Thanks!

This I Believe (the Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women) by Jay Allison

This I Believe II (More Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women) by Jay Allison

I know I keep sending you to these specific books and I am sure I will continue to do so. There’s something really game-changing about connecting yourself with people who know what they stand for. Want to shape your own beliefs into more solid ground? Wrestle with them. Ask yourself hard questions. Challenge what you took at face value as a child and test it out in real life. Read biographies of people you admire and want to learn from. Because stretching yourself is the best work you’ll ever do.

Build better belief | belief in marriage | belief in faith | stronger confidence | feet in running shoes standing in water
Lose Control |Find what you can count on | out of control horse
May 30

Lose Control (and find what you can count on)

By Jessica Allen | Faith , Life

Things I can control

My attitude

My spiritual life

My communication

My health

My choices

My investment into my relationships

My self care

Things I cannot control

Literally Everything Else.

Baby out of control mess
Clearly.

I buck hard against this Universal Truth, but that’s the thing about Universal Truths – they do not break.

This is a season (May, 2019, Raising Small Children, My 30’s, Little League, Entrepreneurship, The Last Day Of School Before Summer, etc.) that is forcing me to take exactly one blessed day at a blessed time.  My brain cannot handle any more than that. 

I like to plan and know what to expect, but so much of what’s happening in our little family’s life is beyond our control.  It’s unsettling in many ways.  Yet in other aspects, it’s a true relief.

One day at a time

The concept of “one day at a time” is held closely in the recovery world.  It’s the practice of being responsible for what you can, releasing the rest, and finding joy/contentment/peace one day at a time. 

If this practice is healthy and helpful for people in recovery, and those who love them most, surely it’s good for all the rest of us too.

Living one day at a time means I am accountable only for where I am and what I am doing (giving to myself and the world and other people) in this present moment. 

It’s as simple as remembering – and whispering to yourself as often as you need to – the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. 

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

Schedules will get overwhelming.

People will disappoint you.

You will drop the ball on something important.

Life will throw you a curve ball you never saw coming.

So what can I count on?

I know that no matter what, the constants I can count on are:

  1. My spiritual life (even when I wanted God to leave, He never did),
  2. My commitment to my own mental/emotional/physical wellness, and
  3. I have also learned, through fire and actual hell on earth, that there are people I can actually count on.  They are human, and they will undoubtedly disappoint me from time to time, just as I will disappoint them.  But it is a gift to know who you can truly trust when the chips are down.  My husband, our parents, our siblings, and a few inner circle friends are my anchors.  All this hype about “finding your tribe?” This is all the tribe I need.

Who are those people in your life?  Those people that sing your song back to you when you’ve forgotten how it goes.  Do you have them?

Who are you that person for? 

When you lose control

When life swirls all crazy and you can’t see the next step, stop grasping for control.  (It’s always just beyond our reach anyway.)

Instead, go back to what you can count on

Did you know there is a “rest of” the Serenity Prayer? 

After “wisdom to know the difference,” it continues:

Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time;

Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;

Taking, as He did, this sinful world

As it is, not as I would have it;

Trusting that He will make all things right

If I surrender to His will;

That I may be reasonably happy in this life

And supremely happy with Him

Forever in the next.

Amen.

One. Moment. At. A. Time. 

Lean into your faith.  Invest in your health.  Grab hold of your people.  It’s what you can count on. 

Heartfully Present,

J

Reading list:

This is an affiliate link – if you choose to purchase a book through this link, you won’t pay a penny more, but I’ll receive a small commission that helps keep our little community up and running.

The Way of Serenity (Finding Happiness in The Serenity Prayer) by Father Jonathan Morris

Lose control | Find what you can count on | out of control horse
discouragement | how to bounce back | discouraged woman
May 21

Discouragement

By Jessica Allen | Life

Why do we feel discouragement, and even more importantly, how do we bounce back faster?

Not everyone is prone to get stuck in discouragement. But some of us are. In a world of “suck it up, buttercup,” it’s not popular to admit you feel discouraged. But those feelings are real, and until you can pinpoint why they’re flooding your mind, it’s hard to move forward up and out.

This concept has been on my mind a lot lately – I chalk it up to the wild ride of entrepreneurialism and the creative process. But I also watch discouragement play out in real life with my son quite frequently. In fact, my husband had a chat with him just this morning about it. “You know what the opposite of discouraged is, buddy? COURAGE.” (I literally had never thought about that before.)

Something my son did has been stuck in my craw since Spring Break, and I finally figured it out. So here you go:

Discouragement in real time

Ever had to ski up a mountain? That’s exactly what I had to do when my 7 year old melted down over a challenging run.

You see, he had toppled over for the umpteenth time (turns out his binding was loose) and lost both skis in the tumble.

He has… well… a short fuse.  Like father, like son.  And when he hit the ground this time, he got mad.  So mad that he formally and very loudly denounced skiing and the entire state of Colorado and our whole vacation all in a fit so epic I had to turn my body away so he wouldn’t see me choking back laughter.  He saw me anyway, and so for dramatic emphasis, he threw his ski down the slope… and then was furious that I made him go get it himself. By then I was mad too.

Just about the time I thought I was going to have to roll him down the slope, we got his skis back on despite his epic pouting.  He made it down the rest of the run, faster and more confident as we went.  We got to the bottom and I clipped out of my skis to take him for a cheer-up hot chocolate when I heard him yell at the top of his lungs, “THAT WAS AWESOME!”

I think I actually pounded my helmet with my fists.  He makes me crazy when he does this. 

This story happened months ago and I promise you it has taken me this long to process it.  Why does he react this way, and why does it send me into a tailspin?  What is it about his display of rage that bothers me so much?

I finally put my finger on it this morning.  It popped on like a light bulb.

His anger stems from discouragement

Whether it’s skiing, or a poor grade on a school assignment, or a failed attempt at a sports skill, or feeling excluded by friends, this child’s heart breaks when he feels discouraged. 

No big deal, right?  This is a life skill we can work on, right?

So why does it bother me so much when he gets like this?

Because I fall apart when I am discouraged too.

While he may pick up his temper from his daddy, my son picks up his tendency towards discouragement from me. 

“I Can” Attitude

Upon reflection, I realize I have spent the majority of my adult life subconsciously learning to master the feeling of discouragement.  Experiences like the grieving process, entrepreneurship, leadership, risk-taking, learning from failure, etc. are all incredible tools for learning how to cope with feeling discouraged.  Taking one step at a time.  Determining the next best yes.  Honoring my feelings in the moment and then choosing to continue with only the good ones in my brain. 

I am the Queen of Picking Myself Up By My Own Bootstraps.  I could write a book of motivational quotes and list 100 reasons why your attitude determines your altitude. 

I know that by focusing on and working in my strengths, my confidence will grow.

And by keeping a spirit of optimism and positivity, I can always, always, always find a silver lining.  (this is really annoying to lots of people in my life actually.)

There’s nothing that God and I can’t do together. 

But sometimes, I just feel discouraged 

My usual traps of discouragement show up after an embarrassing fall on my you-know-what or when my confidence takes a dive.

And when I feel discouraged, my personal tendency is to get stuck in it.

I am not proud of this.  I am, however, proud that after 3 months of wondering why a thrown ski bothered me so much, I figured it out. 

I don’t like the way my son behaves when he’s discouraged because I don’t like the way I behave when I am discouraged. 

When this realization became crystal clear, my mind flooded with instances when I have thrown my own proverbial ski.

Times when I pouted… rerouted… blamed… and stayed stuck in my own self-pity instead of picking myself up and moving ahead. 

How much time and energy have I wasted pitching a fit instead of getting back to the venture at hand?

Where my son and I differ is that he is made up of a pretty even mix of his daddy and me: he has my tendency towards discouragement, and his daddy’s fiery competitive spirit.  Those may seem opposites of one another but they fuel each other pretty intensely.  (They’re explosive in our marriage… it’s no wonder they’re explosive within himself.)

My little guy gets discouraged, defeated, and then flashes red hot mad.  I get discouraged and then, if I’m not careful, get stuck in defeat.  So I know all too well the feeling of disappointment that turns to embarrassment and other related unproductive behavior.

I’ve had a lifetime to acquire and practice techniques that help me forge onward when I feel discouraged.  But he’s just getting started.  Maybe it won’t take him until nearly-40 to understand – and adapt to – how he is wired.

How can I help him (er, myself) move through moments of feeling discouraged without pushing him to the point of anger or frustration?

How to stop feeling discouraged

  1. Acknowledge your actual feelings.  I have found that “help me understand what’s making you sad” is a valuable opener when I’m helping my son work through discouragement. Not surprisingly, that question is just as helpful when I ask it of myself.  Sometimes all we need as human beings is to be heard and understood.  Being misunderstood is in itself incredibly defeating, so if we can start by simply trying to understand where our feelings are coming from, it’s a lot easier to navigate anything else that follows.
  2. Decide what you’d like to see happen.  Help identify some next-step options.  He didn’t really want to leave Colorado.  He wanted to have fun skiing like a champ.  So once he could think/speak clearly enough to articulate what he wanted, we could figure out how to make it happen.
  3. Take action towards a solution.  Action cures fear, and frustration, every time.  We put his skis back on, even though he was still upset, and made it down one easy turn at a time.  By the time we got to the bottom, it was the Best Vacation Ever.

What doesn’t help:

  1. Yelling or shaming.  This includes our own self-talk. Shaming yourself never works. Discouragement breeds frustration and anger, which breeds more discouragement.  Punishing my son (or myself) for feeling upset would have been completely counterproductive.
  2. Pushing him.  His sister is old/wise enough for me to do this, but he is not.  There will come a time that I can tell him “dig deep and keep going” or the more popular “suck it up buttercup” but he doesn’t have the emotional coping skills to do that on his own yet.  He needs help with the process.  (Some of us adults still need to give ourselves grace in this area too.  Pushing yourself through something when your emotions aren’t in check is sometimes not the best option.  #unpopularopinion #notsorry)
  3. Not honoring the victory.  Celebrate the way discouragement turns into confidence.  Every experience we have turning over negative experiences into something positive is another tool in our emotional toolbox.  It’s a feeling you can draw on the next time you encounter feelings of discouragement.

What’s got you feeling discouraged?  Tap into yourself and get to the heart of what’s really bothering you.  Figure out what you’d really like to see happen.  And then take steps to get there. 

There is no reason to let discouragement hold you back. 

So put your skis back on and let’s go.  It’s fun, I promise. 

HP,

J

PS: Feeling discouraged? Check out these books I love that have helped me learn how to work through it. (These are affiliate links – if you choose to purchase a book through one of these links, you won’t pay a penny more, but I’ll receive a small commission which helps keep our little community up and running.  Thanks!)

Do It Scared by Ruth Soukup (BRAND NEW and launching TODAY, I’ve read the sneak peek and it’s fantastic!)

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers

Crash the Chatterbox by Steven Furtick

Discouragement|how to bounce back|discouraged woman
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