What You Don't Know About Hallmark Star Jen Lilley

Many devoted fans know her as Theresa Donovan on "Days of Our Lives," while others love watching her work her magic in Hallmark movies, but Jen Lilley is so much more than just an actress.

Many actors aim to use their platform to do some good in the world, but Lilley takes it to the next level: She's determined to use her craft to make the world a better place, especially when it comes to children. Lilley is a big advocate for children's rights (via Parade). "I dream of a day when we no longer have to talk about child abuse in the United States, but until that day comes, I'll be shining a light on America's murky children's issues," she said.

Lilley doesn't just talk about the things that matter to her — she gets her hands dirty and does the work needed to bring about change, whether that means fostering children or hosting fundraisers to help causes close to her heart. Somehow, she also manages to be an actress, singer, mother of four, and wife, all while working to bring about positive change. You might think you've got her down to a T, but here's what you probably don't know about Jen Lilley.

Jen Lilley got into acting after landing a lead role in college

Jen Lilley isn't someone who lives in her comfort zone. She first stepped into the world of acting while attending the University of Virginia, when she challenged herself to audition for a production and then landed the lead role, as she described in an interview. Once the project kicked off, she fell in love with the industry — and the rest, as they say, is history.

Realizing that she loved the business side of the entertainment world, she set out to take some evening acting classes with a local director and dove headfirst into what would eventually become her career. "... I was buying all the books I could about the business of acting..." she told Forbes. "For me, it really came down to finding the nuts and bolts of the business side of it and trying to figure out why do some people succeed beyond talent."

Lilley spent plenty of time scouring IMDb, looking at what up-and-coming actors were doing and making notes of how many productions they were working on at a time. She used this information to get an idea of the work she'd need to put in to make it as an actress.

Armed with information from her research, Lilley crafted an eight-year plan and made the move to Los Angeles, where she landed a featured extra's role in "Changeling" alongside Angelina Jolie, per Forbes. From there, she soon started booking other roles.

She left Days of Our Lives to focus on her family and charity work

Jen Lilley quickly became a household name after joining the cast of "Days of Our Lives," where she played the role of Theresa Donovan before making an exit in 2016. She announced the news on Instagram, saying that playing Theresa had been the highlight of her career so far. She admitted that it was painful to leave the show and the character behind, but that she was doing so in order to pursue other commitments and career opportunities, which included spending more time working with charities.

Lilley later told Forbes that one of the main reasons she decided to leave the show was so she and her husband could focus on becoming foster parents. She was well aware that foster kids need love, attention, and consistency, something her work would not allow for on a daily basis, so she was left with a tough choice. "It was either I was going to do a good job on the soap and maybe not give these children the love that they deserve or I was going to be a fantastic foster mom, and just flounder in my acting," she said. In the process of becoming a foster parent, Lilley realized another goal, which was to draw people's attention to issues that matter to her — in this case, foster care.

Jen Lilley takes marriage very seriously

Jen Lilley and her husband, Jason Wayne, have been married since 2007 and are still smitten with each other. In an anniversary post on Lilley's Instagram feed, she credited her parents and grandparents for setting such a good example when it comes to committing to marriage. In the caption, she referred to Wayne as her best friend and thanked him for always being there for her and the kids. "To the man who gives me wind beneath my wings to take on my massive dreams and goals and who anchors my soul when my sassy and constantly fired up self takes on too much at once, I love you," she wrote. "You're an amazing dad and constant in our lives."

During an interview with Parade, Lilley was asked whether her husband ever gets a little jealous when she works with handsome costars, to which she replied that it doesn't bother him in the least. "No, my husband Jason is the sweetest, kindest, most secure man I know, " she told the outlet. "Jason knows he's had my heart for over 14 years, and it's his forever."

She and her husband fostered and adopted two boys

After leaving "Days of Our Lives," Jen Lilley devoted most of her time to fostering children. She and her husband, Jason Wayne, ended up fostering two boys. Their eldest, Kayden, was placed in their care when he was just 4½ months old, Lilley told Parade. She explained that he had special needs and that his home situation was dangerous. "No joke, if he wasn't with us right now, he would for sure be dead. There's no doubt in my mind and there's no doubt in the social worker's mind," she told the outlet. 

The couple finally adopted Kayden in 2019, and Lilley was bursting with happiness when the adoption was made official in court. She told People that the moment Kayden became their legal child, she "almost lost it." A little over a year later, they adopted Kayden's half-brother, Jeffery. His adoption was even more emotional. Lilley took to Instagram to share the great news, explaining how she had held onto the hope that Jeffery would be able to grow up with his half-brother. "There were so many times we didn't know how his case would end, but we were committed to loving him the rest of our lives," she wrote.

Jen Lilley's parents sparked her passion for foster care

Jen Lilley's passion for foster care can be attributed to her parents. In an interview with Parade, Lilley explained that her parents could never become official foster parents because of their job titles: Her father was a judge, while her mother worked as the director of a women's and children's charity. This didn't keep them from opening their home to others, however. Lilley said their house was basically an "unofficial foster home," adding, " ... it seemed like there was always someone living with us who fell on hard times. So we were a safe house for people."

When she decided to start fostering kids, Lilley wasn't intimidated by the idea of welcoming a stranger into her home, thanks to her parents' generosity toward others when she was a kid. "That's where my empathy and seeds of my love for foster care really started," she told People.

Jen Lilley suffered two miscarriages

Aside from having adopted two boys, Jen Lilley also has two daughters of her own. Her pregnancy journey wasn't exactly smooth sailing, though. Lilley first suffered a miscarriage in 2018. She shared her story in an Instagram post, saying that she knew there were people out there who needed to read it. She proceeded to explain that she miscarried when she was 12 weeks pregnant and just about to share the good news with the rest of her family. "I remember talking with my mom, who said I had to tell my siblings because they needed to know I actually experienced heartache too, and I wasn't picture perfect. It hit me like a ton of bricks," she wrote. She added that she didn't initially agree with her mother that sharing her experience was the best route, but she ended up taking her advice.

When Lilley gave birth to her second daughter in May 2022, she commemorated the special day on Instagram and revealed that she'd suffered a second miscarriage before the pregnancy. "I know the heartache that accompanies such loss even years later," she wrote.

She starred in 13 Hallmark movies

Those who didn't already know Jen Lilley as Theresa on "Days of Our Lives" had the pleasure of discovering her on the Hallmark Channel, where she starred in comforting holiday movies before ultimately leaving the network in January 2022. Lilley revealed in an interview with Parade why she loved working with the network: "Hallmark Channel treats their actors and actresses with [the] utmost respect. Their scripts remind me of why entertainment exists in the first place: escape," she explained, adding that the films aim to leave people "encouraged, uplifted, and happy."

Lilley also realized a longtime dream when she signed up to work with Hallmark. As a big fan of Meg Ryan, she'd always had the goal to follow in the actress' footsteps and become the star of a romantic film. Hallmark movies definitely tick that box. Another reason Lilley enjoyed being part of the Hallmark family is because of the impact the films have on people's lives. Speaking to ET Online, she explained that the movies allowed her to indirectly become part of people's Christmas and holiday traditions. "... I just love that I get to be invited into people's living rooms that I don't know and become part of their memories," she said.

She's a children's rights advocate

Jen Lilley has a passion for helping children and uses her platform to lend a helping hand whenever she can. According to People, she even started an annual Christmas fundraising project in 2020 called Christmas is Not Cancelled. In 2021, the project aimed to collect 20,000 toys that were distributed to children in need.

Lilley is also a children's rights advocate and works tirelessly to create awareness around foster care. She even hosts a podcast, "Fostering Hope with Jen Lilley," that shines a light on the foster care system and the issues surrounding it. She told Good Morning America that her goal is to help kids find safe, happy homes where they are cared for by loving parents, whether that is foster parents, relatives, or birth parents. Lilley also wants to change the foster care system for the better, and her dream is to be able to safely reunite more kids with their birth parents.

Speaking to Parade, Lilley admitted that there are many challenges, one of which is people's willingness to ignore the child abuse crisis in the United States. "It's like it's too much for them to bear, and nothing frustrates me more," she said. "The issue needs sunlight and attention. Every time we turn a blind eye, it accelerates the epidemic."

Religion is an important part of her life and career

Religion plays a vital role in Jen Lilley's life as well as her career decisions. Speaking to Aleteia, she shared that the projects she takes on are usually based on how they will impact people as well as the message they will send. This is one of the reasons she enjoys doing Hallmark films so much, but sometimes, she accepts roles that are a little out of her comfort zone if she feels called to do so.

Lilley admitted that she almost didn't take on the role of Theresa in "Days of Our Lives" because the character's rocky love life and drug abuse didn't seem like the kind of content she wanted to put out into the world. She felt called to do it anyway, so she prayed about it and received an answer from God: "I need the audience to know that when they relate to Theresa, they are not beyond redemption." This was her sign to go for the part, and she never regretted it. Lilley said that she was incredibly happy with how Theresa evolved over the course of the show.

Religion also plays an important part in Lilley's personal life — aside from seeing foster care as her calling (via Good Morning America), Lilley also gave her youngest daughter a name that carries a special meaning: Jackie Grace. "Jackie means 'God will protect her,' Grace means 'God will empower her,'" she told People.

Jen Lilley is a singer as well as an actress

Aside from entertaining people on-screen, Jen Lilley also touches hearts with her music, using it as a way to help others. "It's important to me that public figures and artists use their voices to advocate for the voiceless, the unheard, and the unseen," she told People in an interview. 

In 2020, Lilley hosted a competition called "Voices that Give," with the goal to raise funds for Foster Care Awareness Month. The winners appeared in her music video "On The Street Where You Live." Lilley managed to raise over $50,000 through the competition, which was used to start the Love Well Foundation. "... I'll be working alongside Project Orphans to create a neighborhood here in the United States filled with safe, loving, and stable foster homes to provide the healing these children desperately need," she told People.

Lilley also released an album in 2018, which took over two years to complete between her acting projects (via MediaVillage). Creating the album was quite the journey — she revealed that she even got to work with Adele's 50-piece orchestra. As for the genre of music, she settled on what she called "modern '60s style music." Fans can also find a few Christmas songs on Lilley's Spotify discography.