When You Need A Little Mercy


My Mother's CamFor the past several months I have spent my days adjusting to life as a mother of three. Seven months have passed since my baby girl was born and for the most part I feel like “Allen Party of Five” has settled very happily into our new normal.

Just the other day, during a family stroll around the block, I grabbed my husband’s hand and with a contented sigh told him how much I love my life. How much I love being a mom of three.

It’s good to be in this place but believe me I’ve had my moments. I knew all along this season of adjustment would be tough at times, what I didn’t know was how discouraged I would sometimes feel.

Surprisingly, at least to me, the discouragement I’ve felt the most hasn’t come from late night feedings or nursing dilemmas or middle child meltdowns, but from a lack of time to write.

Before Promise was born I had a solid writing routine that supplied me with the chance to work on my novel almost everyday. I didn’t know how spoiled I was or how vital this time had become to my ability to function. When my routine went haywire, replaced by feeding times, rocking times, and a few extra minutes of much needed sleep, I found myself feeling like I couldn’t breathe. Without my time to write I was suffocating.

I needed a little mercy. Just an hour, please, to sit and write.

In the midst of this season God has been good, giving just the mercy I need. His mercy has surprised me, coming not in hours to write, but in hours to sit and read.

For a writer reading is the next best thing to writing, and while I don’t get the chance to write everyday, nursing and rocking my newborn has given me a newfound chance to enjoy the words and pages and joy of a book. 

You see, God and me, we have this thing. This thing with books. This thing in which He always seems to bring just the right book at just the right time into my life.

Most recently He’s done just this thing through My Mother’s Chamomile by Susie Finkbeiner. For almost a year this lovely novel sat on my shelf, and now I know God was saving it for a time such as this. For a time when days go by without putting pen to paper because so much time is spent being a mom to three little ones.

Sometimes I fool myself into thinking that God wants me to read nothing but non-fiction books that help me grow in my walk with Christ. That draw me closer to Him through a better prayer life, a cleaner house, a smaller waist, a thankful heart. And while these books have their place in my life, My Mother’s Chamomile has reminded me that God also speaks to me and draws me close through stories.

It wasn’t until I picked up this book that I realized how starved I am for fiction, for story. For words that make my own words better. For a book that reminds me to dream, to write, to keep writing, even when I feel discouraged.

So many heart lessons were learned as I read this book. Lessons I know I’ll return to again and again. Discoveries my heart needed to wake up to. Reminders of what I already knew to be true.

God knew I needed this mercy. My need wasn’t lost on Him. He knew what my heart needed, (even more than I did), and came through with just the thing. With a book that spoke to my heart. With waters of mercy for a thirsty soul. With grace so I could breathe.

All of this is to acknowledge the fact that we all need a little mercy. 

Whether you’re discouraged, grieving, drowning, or just needing a reminder of what your heart is for and Who’s for your heart we all need His mercy. His gifts of grace in our lives.

No one knows this more than He does and that’s why He’s waiting, that’s why He’s here. That’s why He keeps showing up morning by morning with brand new mercies and baby fresh grace. 

Mercy for this mama’s heart. 

Mercy for all hearts in need of more of Him.  


~ From the cover of My Mother’s Chamomile ~

“Desperate for the rains of mercy…

 Middle Main, Michigan has one stoplight, one bakery, one hair salon…and one funeral home. The Eliot Family has assisted the grieving people in their town for over fifty years. After all those years of comforting others, they are the ones in need of mercy.

Olga, the matriarch who fixes everything, is unable to cure what ails her precious daughter. She is forced to face her worst fears. How can she possibly trust God with Gretchen’s life?

A third generation mortician, Evelyn is tired of the isolation that comes with the territory of her unconventional occupation. Just when it seems she’s met a man who understands her, she must deal with her mother’s heartbreaking news. Always able to calm others and say just the right thing, she is now overwhelmed with helplessness as she watches Gretchen slip away.

They are tasting only the drought of tragedy…where is the deluge of comfort God promises?”

Susie Headshot 2

Author Susie Finkbeiner

Susie Finkbeiner is the writer of fiction, both short and long. Her deepest desire is that her fiction reflects the love of Jesus in a broken world. She and her husband are raising their three children in the beauty of Michigan.

With many thanks to author Susie Finkbeiner I am SO, SO, SO excited to giveaway a copy of Susie’s latest book A Cup of Dust to one of my readers. (Now that’s a mercy AND a grace! Thanks, Susie!)

To enter my Cup of Dust giveaway please leave a comment below and share this post on Facebook or Twitter. The winning name will be drawn next Saturday and the winner will be announced in next week’s post.

Cup of DustA Cup of Dust is available online and at Baker Book House and releases everywhere October 27th. 

Also don’t miss an exciting chance to make a Kindle version of My Mother’s Camomile your own, October 9-14th for just $.99! 

What to Do this Memorial Day: READ!

War BooksI closed the book and held it close to my chest. After three weeks immersed in the pages of Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand I was both sad and happy for the story of Louie Zamperini to come to an end. 

When I started reading this book it wasn’t what I expected. For some reason I thought it was a fiction novel set in World War II. I realized right away this wasn’t the case. Rather than historical fiction, Unbroken is a very real account of an American POW, a biography of an American hero.

While I love historical fiction my typical reading preferences do not gravitate toward history books, particularly those that tell the gruesome details of war and the soldiers who fight them. That’s more my husband’s department, and for years I’ve been content to leave this difficult and heavy reading up to him.

But there was something about Louie, something about Unbroken that I couldn’t let go. This story, albeit hard to read, is the closest I’ll ever come to understanding the price that was paid for my freedom.

If an American hero like Louie was brave enough, resilient enough, strong enough to endure the story captured in this book, the very least I can do is take the time to read his-story. 

It is nothing short of scandalous. That I can sit on my couch, comfortable and cozy on a cold winter night, with food in my fridge and a roof over my head and read the story of a man who lost everything in order to protect my freedom.

Flag StatueBooks like Unbroken, movies like American Sniper are hard to read, hard to watch, but I think there is an importance to these stories all Americans should make room for in their hearts, their minds, their lives. How else do we avoid taking the truth of our history for granted? How else do we avoid forgetting? How else do we avoid turning a blind eye to what is still being done on our behalf to keep us safe, to keep us free?

If you’re like me, and war books/movies aren’t your thing, might I encourage you to check one out? Take the time to set aside your normal book of choice and engage in the stories of men and women who have given their lives so we can live our lives in safety and in freedom.

And when you’re done, I hope you’ll take that unlikely book on your reading list and hold it close to your chest. A little more grateful. A little more aware. A little more willing to thank the veteran you see at the grocery store next week.

A little more willing to keep on reading. Because these stories are more than stories.

They are relics of our history, bought with blood, too precious to be forgotten. They are links into the battle against evil, being fought for us right now, too real to  be taken for granted.

An Unlikely Reading List…

Night by Elie Wiesel

1776 by David McCullough

American Sniper by Chris Kyle

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

American Wife by Taya Kyle

Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell

A Warrior’s Faith by Robert Vera

~A Message From the Archives


I Like Books (An I Like Giving Giveaway!)

A few weeks ago I wrote briefly about the cry room at my church. The cry room is a small room adjacent to the main sanctuary that is reserved for nursing moms or moms with infants and/or small children who struggle to sit through service.

My two-year-old Tenley and I fall into category number two. Week after week Tenley and I head to the cry room whenever she gets too loud and wiggly.

Tenley loves the cry room. She loves seeing the other babies and emptying the contents of my purse to her heart’s delight.

To be honest, I don’t really mind our trips to the cry room either. I love how it’s quiet and cozy, and I love getting a chance to see other moms even if it’s just to say, “hi.”

Throughout my time in the cry room I’ve had plenty of opportunities to observe the moms around me. Many of them are first time moms or moms with tiny newborns. I can’t help but notice the look of supreme joy mixed with supreme stress and fatigue written across their faces.

There are also moms with toddlers who come in exasperated when their child has chosen the middle of service as the best possible time for a meltdown. On their faces I see signs of physical and emotional exhaustion mixed with assuring smiles and gentle eyes.

My heart goes out to these moms because I’ve been there; I know what it’s like. I know what it’s like to be needed by a newborn or small child every hour of the day. I know what it’s like to feel like motherhood is an endless, sometimes thankless job. I know what it’s like to feel as though no one sees, no one knows, no one understands just how much you love, just how hard you work, just how much you pour into your children.

And more than anything I want these moms to know that they are not alone. I want them to know that someone does see, that someone does know, that someone does understand. I want to encourage them, build them up, refresh their hearts, infuse them with strength.

I want to point them to God, remind them of His love, and help them know we have an ally, an intimate friend, who is always with us as we mother and grow our families.

But how? How do I nurture these moms who nurture their children so faithfully?

I Like GivingWith this question in mind I recently came across a book titled, I like Giving by Brad Formsma. Full of stories and creative ideas, Formsma’s book has launched a movement that encourages people to give in all kinds of ways.

I Like Giving is a fun, entertaining, and helpful book that inspires its readers to give generously and effectively, not just occasionally but as an ongoing and world changing lifestyle.

Within the first few pages of Formsma’s book I knew I had my answer: books! Free books, in the cry room, for moms.

Books are a huge encourager for me. Books like Ann Voskamp’s, One Thousand Gifts, or Stasi Eldredge’s, Captivating, or Lysa TerKeurst’s, Made to Crave don’t just bolster my heart, they change my life.

So what if I took all those books sitting on my shelf, books I’ve read, and loved, and cried over because they spoke so deeply to my heart and gave them away to fellow moms with hearts just like mine?

Armed with newfound passion, excitement, and my husband’s blessing to scour bookstores, garage sales, and our house, I grabbed a wooden crate and went to work collecting books. In no time I had a crateful of titles ready to give away.

I placed the crate in the cry room, with the message: A free gift for you. I said a quick prayer and trusted God to get these books into the hands and hearts that need them most.

As Tenley grows and gets better at sitting through service, I find myself visiting the cry room for a completely different reason: to give to moms who never stop giving.

To fill and refill my box of books.

To join with God in filling and refilling the hearts of moms.

I like books. I like giving. I like taking one of my passions and using what I have to be a blessing, to make a difference, to lift a fellow mama’s heart, one book, one gift, at a time.

The giving doesn’t stop here…True to his word and the message of his book, Brad Formsma has generously given me three copies of, I Like Giving, to share with you, my wonderful readers! (Thanks so much, Brad!)

Simply leave a comment below, post to my Facebook link or share this post with your friends and your name will be entered in a drawing for a free copy of I like Giving by Brad Formsma. (If you share this post from my website, be sure to email me at jenniferallen@onceuponawriter.com /Subject:Giveaway/ so I can enter your name in the drawing.)

The drawing will be held next Sunday, June 15, and winners will be announced on Wednesday June, 18th.

I hope you’ll enter, check out Brad’s book, and join the I Like Giving movement to change our world one gift at a time.

For more information on Brad Formsma and his book, I Like Giving, please visit www.Ilikegiving.com.

Today Was A Fairy Tale

Once upon a time there was a book I couldn’t put down…

I have a confession to make: Last Wednesday I failed to publish a post to this site and while I’d love to tell you that my missing post was due to something romantic like writer’s block, or a spur-of-the-moment getaway or even a sick child who needed ‘round the clock care the real reason behind my negligence is that I was completely and utterly lost in a book.

Scandoulous, I know.

It gets worse.

Instead of following my confession with a heartfelt apology, after much thought, I have decided I’m not going to apologize for this one. I also refuse to feel guilty.

Don’t get me wrong. I love you, my dear and faithful readers. Your comments and responses to the words I write keep me going when I wonder if it’s worth it. When I doubt that anyone’s reading the words I work so hard to write. When I’m tempted to give up.

But I also know that a huge part of what makes me a writer…perhaps even a decent one…is my reckless abandon and love for books.

My friend Susie says that for writers reading is like flexing your muscles, and I believe she’s right. (If you’ve never stopped by Susie’s blog I highly encourage you to check out a couple of her posts on this topic of reading both here and here.)

When I read several things happen:

1)    Ideas begin to turn: Whether it’s an idea for a blog post, a detail for my book, a plot twist or possible character development, reading keeps my creative juices fresh and flowing.

2)    Inspiration strikes: The novel I’m currently reading, yes, the very one I can’t put down, and others like it don’t just captivate me they make me want to write. At times my fingers literally start twitching to get the keyboard. Whenever I find myself going through a dry spell in my own writing I know it’s a sign that it’s time to start reading. Bottom line, reading and writing go hand in hand and reading always makes me a better writer.

3)    My skills are developed: When I read, whether it’s conscious or subconscious or a combination of both, I am always learning about the art and craft of writing. I learn new words, new techniques. I learn new ways to tell stories and create characters. The lessons I learn from books of all genres are critical and priceless.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that each of these things is vital to my health, my sanity, my existence. It’s the way I’m wired, the way I’m made. Reading helps me function, it helps me learn, grow, and relate to the world around me. For me there is nothing like it.

But there is one more reason why I read, one more thing that happens when I lose myself in a book. When I read, especially when I get sucked into a really good book like the one I’m reading now, I am reminded of the story…of God’s story. Somehow, in someway, I believe all the really good stories and/or books of our time are reflections of the story He has been writing since time began.

I love any chance I get with a book. I live for the thrill of digging through words and mining out gems that harken back to the greatest love story ever told. It’s why I write. It’s why I read. It’s why I will never apologize for getting caught with my nose stuck in a book.

So while I’m sorry I missed out on our weekly get together last Wednesday, I’m not sorry for the time I spent reading. I hope you’ll forgive me but more than that, I hope you’ll follow my lead.

I hope you’ll find a good book, throw caution to the wind, and read with reckless abandon.

Brave Prince, Lovely Princess may you wake up this day to the fairy tale found in the pages of a book. May you get lost in an exquisite post, a moving article, a story that can’t be put down.

May you lose yourself in words that whisper, in pages that echo, again, and again, and again, the greatest story ever told.

Author’s note: In case you’re wondering, the book…or rather the series of books…I’m currently reading are Liz Curtis Higgs’s Thorn in My Heart, Fair is the Rose, and Whence Came a Prince.

Today Was A Fairy Tale

The Last SummerOnce upon a time there was a girl who loved to read…

…and that girl is me! My friend Susie Finkbeiner, author of Paint Chips and My Mother’s Chamomile (two books you simply must read) says that reading for writers is like flexing your muscles.

I heartily agree. For writers and non-writers alike, reading is rarely a waste of time.

While March is typically a time in which our nation loses its self in the world of college basketball, it is also National Reading Month. In honor of this celebration I thought it would be fun to share with you a passage that I love.

Taken from the pages of The Last Summer (of You & Me) by Ann Brashares, this passage captured my heart several years ago.

It’s the type of passage that made me cry in the middle of the break room at work. It’s the type of passage that lingers long after finishing the book. It’s the type of passage I visit from time to time, to savor its sweetness, to remember its hold on me.

This passage speaks to me of love, loyalty, and friendship. It speaks of finding what’s true in a world of many things false. It reminds me of the magic found in words and reading.

These words may or may not speak to you…but even if they don’t I hope this post will inspire you to pick up a book and seek a little magic of your own.


An Excerpt from The Last Summer (of You & Me) by Ann Brashares

As a band of children, they had laid a magical world over the topology of this skinny place, spread it from ocean to bay. It had places and creatures both evil and good, and part of the enchantment was their power to change sides whenever a good game required it. Both he and Riley realized this world was fragile. It would sink unmarked into the sea if they let it. It required believing in, and fewer and fewer people did.

In outward disgust and inward fear, he and Riley had established a mostly wordless covenant. Bodies were being snatched left and right, but they had each other to remind them what was true. If they kept each other honest, they decided, it would not happen to them. They would lash themselves to the mast of prehormonal bliss and sail through the storm that way. They’d had the prestige at that time to say, “This we know is true.” And if ever anyone said it was untrue, they would know that evil was whispered in their ears and the enemy was at hand. They would not talk. They would not give in. They’d carry the poison pill and use it if they had to.

But what would happen when they came out on the other side of the storm? They hadn’t thought it through that far. They hadn’t quite considered that by trusting one part of your life, you could undermine all the others. By siding with an early version of yourself, preemptively, you would doubt all future selves the conflicted with it.

Alice had been easy to enlist at the age of ten. Alice who would…attune herself to the broader and subtler frequencies of human interaction. She hadn’t known what she’d be giving up.

The rest had been looking backward. Trying to remember what was true rather than seeking it. They were holy men divining the ancient book, judges interpreting their constitution. They harkened back to a calmer, more just time.

But time went on, as it will, and the seasons changed. What did not accord with the covenant Paul did not tell Riley and Alice. The ambitions, the petty preoccupations…the laughing girl in his history class junior year. He went ahead and lived those seasons, all the while feeling that his real life lay here, on this beach in the summer, with Riley and Alice.

What was powerful at thirteen and even seventeen should have grown quaint by twenty-four, and yet the covenant, by its nature, had durability. It still existed between them. He could feel it even now. You could go away for months or years, but it was still here, bound to what you loved, binding you to it.

Alice kept it out of loyalty, he suspected. For Riley, it wasn’t so much like a choice. And for him?

For him, what he’d had here on this island with Riley and Alice was the best and most lasting thing in his life.

Brave Prince, Lovely Princess, may you wake up this day to the fairy tale found in the love of reading. May you flex your muscles and find that few things in this world have the power to strengthen and nourish like well written words and a passage that feeds your soul.