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All Posts by Jessica Allen

About the Author

Jessica is a writer, musician, entrepreneur, wife, and mom. Jessica's mission is to write "real" - shining light into the dark places of the tough stuff we all experience. She and her husband Jack live in Houston, Texas and have weathered the storms of grief, infant loss, adoption, and a marriage that almost fell apart. Jessica and Jack have 4 children, LJ in heaven, Grace, Jackson, and brand new baby Elisha.

bucket flower
Mar 04

Bucket filling

By Jessica Allen | Family

 Based on a recent poll on social media, this particular topic on bucket filling in our family was the winning idea for a full blog post.  Thank you to all who added value to this experiment, whether by casting your vote or sending words of encouragement – my bucket is full. 

Original Facebook post, February 2018:
After brother scared the pants off me by hiding outside the bathroom this morning and roaring at me when I came out, I fell over and we laughed our guts out.

Me: Brother, is your little love bucket full?
J (hee-hawing): Yeah, and my laugh bucket too!

Full buckets mean more to me than any morning race against the clock. I’m thankful these little people remind me of that when I start to move into drill sergeant mode. “Bucket filling is fun and easy to do. It doesn’t cost any money, and it doesn’t take much time.” (see below: Have You Filled a Bucket Today?)
______

We have 2 very different types of morning people in our house – pop tarts and slow rollers. The pop tarts are early risers, cheerful and active. The slow rollers are late sleepers, with whom it’s best to speak only when spoken to before 9 am.

There are so many tasks to accomplish within the hour or so we have together in our home before everyone races into their own day ahead. Lunch packing, water bottle filling, oops did anyone eat breakfast, tooth brushing, shoe finding and tying, hair brushing, stuff remembering. The pop tarts among us are quickly prepared and the slow rollers stop to smell e.v.e.r.y. r.o.s.e.

Often brother is ready a full millennium before his sister.  Thus he spends his extra time pole vaulting across our bathroom floor with a stray shower curtain rod that no one has bothered to recycle, or asking to play a game or my computer. (we go technology free in the mornings, it’s a sanity saver.) He could go for months on one good joke or silly prank and at six years old he’s absolutely figured out that it’s a delight to find morning humor at the expense of his less-alert family members.

G on the other hand needs constant prodding.  With my hands placed on her shoulders. Literally pointing her in the right direction of each next step of the morning process. She leaves a trail wherever she goes and a sense of urgent routine means nothing to her free spirit. Whatever colorful thought enters her mind veers her off course. We often find ourselves completely ready while she retrieves that thing “she has to have” before she could possibly take one more bite of a waffle. And where is your other shoe? Oh, of course it’s in the backyard with a stick planted in it.

In the midst of all this, as a parent I feel protective of this morning bubble.   I’m acutely aware every morning that I’m preparing to send my little sheep out among wolves. Even our children face a world of broken people – hurting people.  People who challenge their identities and beliefs even at their young age. People who might not necessarily be mindful of their tender hearts, people who throw out hurtful words without care, people who unknowingly squash bright ideas and innocent excitement. We have just this brief window of time together every morning. So we as their parents make every effort to keep their buckets full to the brim.  They will need it to face the day so they can pour good into others’ buckets – and to keep their own full when others inadvertently dip out of them.

When they are older they will learn how to fill their own buckets in healthy ways. (Prayer, great sleep, good books and learning, exercise, laughter, yummy food, fulfilling conversations, meaningful work, service to others, and quality relationships are just a few ways to do it.) But for now we parents happily embrace that responsibility.

I absolutely get caught in the sweep of the morning rush. It’s easy not to notice the drop in G’s face when I pull the stick out of her backyard shoe – it was a fairy flag. It is simple to look away from the disappointment in brother’s eyes when I snatch the pole out of his next gold-medal vaulting stance because he’s blocking the sink. It’s natural to shrug off a hug from Jack while I’m just trying to load up toothbrushes so we can go.  Because for goodness’ sake doesn’t anyone realize school starts in 12 minutes?

It is a constant battle for me to honor my intentions while also honoring the humans in my space. What simple mindfulness can I bring to the moment that adds value to their spirits? Is it a thoughtful compliment, a task taken off their plate? Could it be a special moment together or a silly surprise?  Can I create a touch of connection like a hug or squeeze of the shoulder? (see below: The 5 Love Languages) Study your people and know what makes them tick. What does bucket filling look like for my spouse and each of my children? When we tune in we learn almost instantly what makes them soar and what deflates them.  And it’s usually in a way that requires a thoughtful apology on our part.

We tend to show love in the way most meaningful to us. We’re not as adept at showing love in the ways most meaningful to other people.

To slow down and give brother the time and touch he needs requires a complete hack on my own default system of structure and task-mastering.

To pause to verbally recognize G’s beautiful offering to the fairies instead of flipping out over the shoe covered in mud requires a deep breath and lowering my raised eyebrows.

When I am on a mission, stopping for a hug from Jack requires a reminder that I am not the most important person in the room, ever.

Because ultimately, my task list is far less important than the way I’ve made my people feel. So they are worth a little Mother-board rewiring from me. My wiring could stand an overhaul anyway.

I can honor the pole vault with a congratulatory “TEN!” like an Olympic judge. I can carefully transplant the fairy flag into a stray pot or fancy cup from inside the house.  If I’m really present, I can add glitter to it too. I can take 3 seconds to engage with Jack as the love of my life. “Bucket filling is fun and easy to do. It doesn’t cost any money, and it doesn’t take much time.”

And as we wave goodbye for the day, no matter what faces us ahead, we’re all out the door with full buckets and the safety of knowing we’re loved supremely well.

HP,

J

Great stuff to read (full reading list coming soon on this blog!):
Have You Filled a Bucket Today? By Carol McCloud (A sweet book for children to understand how to be an exceptional friend and citizen. Adorable illustrations by David Messing.)
The 5 Love Languages By Gary Chapman (learn the 5 languages, identify your own love language, and the love languages of others)
The 5 Love Languages for Children By Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell (applying the 5 Love Languages principles in meaningful ways with little people)
Praying Circles Around Your Children by Mark Batterson (easy, short read)

family love connect heart
Mar 02

Heart-filled beginning

By Jessica Allen | Life

My heart is pounding and overflowing.

I always said I’d do it… and so I finally did. Thanks to the nudging (read: shoving) of trusted loves, this blog journey begins and I’m putting it completely in God’s hands. He understands the internet better than I do and He certainly understands the need for human connection best too.

My motivation for writing originally stemmed from a basic need to catalog the little funny things my children said or did. I don’t keep a baby book, because even using scissors is too crafty for me. So Facebook became the easiest way to log those stories and pictures. And Chatbooks automatically prints every 60 experiences of our life in pictures with captions and sends the whole precious thing right to our home. As that venture has evolved, those little funnies now beautifully pictured in bound books have become our family memoirs. Our life in pictures.

But as these little people grow bigger, their stories are longer. As our life together grows richer, our dreams are bigger. And my heart contains more than 140 caption characters will allow. A full life routinely outgrows itself, requiring change and new beginnings. So now I find myself here, with wide open spaces of white begging to be filled with stories. Love and laughter stories, heartbreak and disappointment stories, questions we’ll ask that aren’t answered this side of Heaven. Our life in words.

My simple intent is to meaningfully connect with wonderful humans (most importantly my own) in real, raw, authentic, heartful life – faithful Christian living, raising a family, putting a marriage back together and keeping it strong, shining light in a world full of chaos, and finding fulfillment right where we are. There is brilliance in simplicity and I have found we’re the most joyful as a family when we throw off the “we should probably’s” and just embrace peace-filled living our own way.  We can spend so much time worrying that we miss the beauty right in our own hands or we can choose to be present. Mindfully present. Heartfully present.

Thank you for having the heart to be real and true with me. It’s even more fun when we do it together.

Heartfully present,

Jessica

broken plate 1000x1000
Jan 14

Breaking Plates

By Jessica Allen | Grief

Jessica’s note: Breaking Plates was written in 2017 as a part of grief healing, prior to launching Heartfully Present.

I did a crazy thing. It was such a profound experience for me that I knew it would come to print someday, and I knew that the words would come when the time was right. I woke up this morning and the words were here. (*note: this date, 12/13/17, was one year to the day that this story actually took place. There are no coincidences with God.)

One year ago I took 3 boxes of plates to our family retreat on Lake Livingston and I smashed them to pieces.

Jack and I had been working with a counselor because when things get tough, healthy people get help. Many years of mediocre communication, layered upon massive grief from child loss, topped with some catastrophic life choices from both of us had brought us to a place where we needed a professional.

After several sessions we spent some time talking through the experience of losing our infant son LJ in 2009, and how we each responded and processed the grief so differently. I shared a “joke” I’ve told countless times over the past 8 years: at one point soon after our son’s passing, I was so angry in grief that I found myself shivering in the cold in a retail parking lot, ready to buy a box of plates to smash against a building somewhere. I just needed something to break. The only reason I didn’t go through with it is because I realized getting arrested would probably just make me feel even worse.

As I laughed on the therapist’s couch, he leaned in and gently said, “I don’t think this is funny at all. Did no one ever tell you to go buy the plates?” I shook my head no and started to cry. He then encouraged me, “Go buy the plates.”

Many people offered to come along for moral support but this task felt so deeply personal that I chose to go alone. I picked a day and after imagining thousands of times what it would have felt like, I marched into Marshalls and bought three big boxes of white place settings.  I looked like a completely normal shopper. I felt anything but normal.

After that strange shopping trip I stopped by my parents’ home to pick up keys to the property; their home was still being built at the time. It’s beautiful there. Hundreds of egrets loft in the trees surrounding a secluded cove, and they quietly stalk the fish that jump in the water. One alligator suns herself just above the water on a little island by the boat house until some larger gators join her in the summertime. My dad sent me with a machete just in case the alligators felt friendly. That is still funny to me, Dad.  I made the drive up there in silence.

It was cloudy and cold and very quiet in the late afternoon when I got there. I pulled the boxes onto the concrete slab of the pavilion. I had brought a permanent marker to label each piece but changed my mind. Some hurts are too big, too hairy, to label with just one word or two. As I started opening the first box, eight years of bottled hurt and pain – and anguish over the events of the past year – spilled hot down my cheeks. I grabbed a coffee mug first and cradled it in my hands. I pulled my bad shoulder back and my arm high over my head and threw the cup as hard as I could straight down onto the concrete. It shattered. And it hurt. The gator spooked and scrambled for deep water. I grabbed a bowl, then a plate, and faster and faster, one by one, I smashed everything in the box. I ripped open the second one, and then the third. In a loud, ugly rage I picked up pieces that didn’t break small enough and smashed them again. Shard after shard rocketed across the pavilion into the grass, into the water. I broke for my family, for my son, for my marriage, for my heart, for dreams, for loss, for pain, for regret, for grief. As I came to the bottom of the last box I dropped to my knees, slicing my skin on the shards underneath.

It had never occurred to me to wear goggles or gloves. There’s a reason it’s called “blind rage:” there’s no logic to anger. It’s why anger feels so powerful to us. It’s strong enough to mask sadness, fear, disappointment. Those emotions the world tells us are weak and those emotions we don’t want to reckon with. Where pain makes us vulnerable, anger comes out swinging. As I knelt there sobbing and holding the last plate, all that anger melted away and I couldn’t break it. In a world of broken plates there are still things too precious to shatter. I caught my breath and surveyed what I had done.

I collected and set aside that final plate, along with one heart-shaped fragment for LJ and one small piece from the dish I broke for my dear friend. She so poignantly states that sometimes change requires yelling and slamming of doors. I think healing requires those things too. Aching, exhausted, and freezing, I found a broom in the workroom and started sweeping. What took me twenty minutes to destroy took me more than two hours to clean up. The metaphor is not lost on me. How quickly decisions, words, actions can create a mess that takes work and such patient painful time to remedy.

To this day, a year later, I still happen upon little white china pieces in the yard when we visit. They are part of the property now. Similarly, those broken pieces of my heart are permanently woven into my life. They are a a colored thread that reappears in the tapestry from time to time, often when I least expect it. It has changed the entirety of the big picture and it is a literal growing pain – my sides twinge sometimes.

It was dark when I finished sweeping and I could already feel the ache of soreness in my arms, sides, back, and legs from hurling so hard and hunching over to sweep up the pieces. I scooped everything into the paper bag I had brought and loaded it back into the car. My original intent was to have an art piece created with the plates, but the longer I looked at them I realized those broken pieces don’t serve me anymore. I kept the heart shaped piece for my son, and the whole plate as a reminder that no matter how broken things seem, there is still wholeness and beauty and healing here.

It’s my choice to live in the broken shards or on the last beautiful plate standing. Sometimes you just have to sort through the shattered pieces to learn that you’re ready to bless them and move forward. Sometimes you have to make that choice one hundred times in a single day.  It’s the only way you’ll find healing.

My point here is this: you have hereby been granted universal permission to go buy your plates. How I WISH I had known this eight years ago. Quiet suffering is the quickest way to misery and martyrdom. Instead, cry into your coffee with a good friend. Be real even when it’s ugly. Own your stuff even when it’s hard. Take a gulp and say the words or do the thing. Mend the relationship and get right with yourself and your loved ones and your Maker. This life is short and it’s hard and it’s sweet. And we only get one to squeeze into it all the things that really matter. Anything else is just junk that gets in the way.

What do you need to find healing and wholeness? If it helps, I’ll meet you at Marshalls.

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