This Is Important

Two weeks before my first kidney surgery in July, I felt a sense of urgency. There were things I felt I must do before I was wheeled into the operating room. I needed to attend a morning service at a historical church I’d been yearning to visit. I needed to play Scrabble on the front porch with my daughters using the same board my grandma and I used. I needed to hear the sound of the ice cream maker, gather with friends and barefooted children, and eat icy goodness like my dad made when I was young. I needed to send a round of handwritten cards to special individuals who encouraged my writing dream. I needed to write love notes to my family.

And I did.

I did all these things and my family obliged.

Even though it was a long drive to the church. Even though they didn’t really love Scrabble. Even though homemade ice cream isn’t easy to make, they said yes.

ice cream HFM

When I said, “This is important to me,” my family listened. They did not ask questions.

Interestingly, as I was honing in on what was important to me, I was better able to see and hear what was important to them.

For my husband it was a grand opening of one of his offices. There would be threats of rain and suffocating summer heat. There would be small talk with strangers when I wasn’t feeling great. Yet, those factors were irrelevant because it was important to him. We all said yes.

For my younger daughter it was having game night. She set up the board and declared that she’d really wanted to play the game as a family. I was tired. I wanted to curl up in my bed. I would have rather played Scrabble. But it was important to her, so we said yes.

For my older daughter, it was having a French mini market on a neighborhood corner one Saturday morning. Although it required several trips to the store for her to purchase supplies and we knew the kitchen wouldn’t look the same after she finished, we still said yes.

“It’s important to her,” I remember saying to my husband when he asked if all this was necessary considering my surgery was just days away.

Upon hearing those words, his face instantly softened. He understood.

little baker #HFM

Knowing there was a chance that something could go wrong during my surgery heightened my sense of what was most important. Like panning for gold, I felt as if I had a sifter that separated the meaningful gems of connection from the millions of grains of irrelevance. I felt as though I was given a super power enabling me to not only recognize, but also seize, what was important.

As my daughters and I waded in a cool stream days before my surgery, I remember thinking about my heightened awareness. I didn’t want to be this intentional only before surgeries or in times of tragedy. This was how I wanted to live every day—keeping what was important at the top of the priority list … keeping it in focus … keeping it close to my heart.

creek #HFM

But I worried. I knew once I fully recovered it would be autumn and school would start and the onslaught of activities, demands, duties, and distractions would threaten to bury the beautiful moments.

Perhaps you can relate.

In times like these, it’s tempting to throw up our hands and say, “Why fight it? This is just how it is. This is just how it will be.”

But we can’t do that. We just can’t. Take it from me, the one who nearly let distraction, perfection, and internal pressure rob me of everything that was most dear.

Here’s what we can’t forget:

We cannot forget what it feels like to be in a stadium with thousands of people all singing the lyrics to the same song.

We cannot forget what it feels like to have a child sitting in front of us singing to us, only to us.

We cannot forget the feeling of watching our loved one from a distance doing a job he was meant to do.

We cannot forget the feeling of watching our loved one up close, close enough to feel his breath.

We cannot forget the feeling of leaves crunching under foot.

We cannot forget what it feels like to bear our soul and hear the words, “Me, too.”

We cannot forget the feeling of soft lips pressed against our forehead.

We cannot forget to notice the morning dew when it clings to a blade of grass.

We cannot forget to watch bread rise in the oven and taste the comfort that comes with the first bite.

My friends, the weight of distraction, productivity, excess, and hurry are heavy. Their pull is strong—strong enough to threaten our ability to hear and see what’s important.

But stare at a heart rate monitor long enough and it all comes back to you real quickly.

Have a friend say, “I’ll give you my kidney,” and it all comes back to you real quickly.

Listen to your child pray, “God, please let Mama wake up,” and it all comes back to you real quickly.

what's important #HFM

The day I got home from the hospital, a package was waiting for me. It was my new book, Hands Free Life. It had been printed by the publisher and finally, finally I was holding the finished copy in my hands.

I began to read. I quickly found myself on page 167. As I read the Hands Free House Rules, tears dripped down my cheeks. What was important stared me right in the face.

Hands Free House Rules 

In our house, we speak kindly and respectfully even if we disagree.

In our house, human beings take precedence over electronic devices.

In our house, today matters more than yesterday.

In our house, we set out to encourage one person each day.

In our house, we look for the blessings. (When they’re not obvious, we keep looking.)

In our house, we have screen-free time so we can hold pets, people, and creative passions in our hands.

In our house, we XO Before We Go, even if our hands are sticky, even if we’re running late.

In our house, we look into each other’s eyes when we speak.

In our house, we open our door and say, “Come as you are.”

In our house, there’s time for “one more”—one more hug, one more cleansing breath, one more prayer, and one more page of our favorite book.

In our house, grace is served daily. We’re all learning here.

In our house, we love “as is.”

In our house, there’s nothing wrong with doing nothing every now and then.

In our house, we put living, laughing, and loving at the top of the priority list.

In our house, there is room for mistakes and room to breathe.

© Rachel Macy Stafford 2015

HF House Rules #HFM

Over the past few weeks, the words written above were mailed out as a framed print to special supporters of the Hands Free message. And even though the recipients did not write these words, their reaction to them was similar to mine.

One friend said she tried to read it aloud to her family, but couldn’t get through it because of her tears. The framed print now sits on the kitchen table and they read it as a family each morning.

Another friend said that reading it aloud instantly made her feel calmer. She’s been choosing to focus on one rule each day to set her intention.

Another friend said it inspired her family to think about what was most important to them, and they’d written their own house rules.

house rules

Looking at her family’s intentions written in the most exquisite font available—kid font—made me cry. But then suddenly joy took over, and it was the most intense joy I’ve felt in a long time. This is what I realized:

The pull of distraction, perfection, productivity, materialism, and hurry is strong, yes, but the human heart is stronger!

My friends, we haven’t forgotten what is important! We know it. It’s inside us. Sometimes it takes surgery, tragic events, and challenging life trials to remind us what’s most important, but we haven’t forgotten.

We just need to make it a daily practice to say, “This is important.”

Maybe it’s nightly conversation.
Maybe it’s quiet space for meditation or prayer.
Maybe it’s a do-nothing moment on the back porch.

Maybe it’s sitting down at the table together.
Maybe it’s laughing ‘til our belly hurts.
Maybe it’s watching the sun set or a storm roll in.

Maybe it’s music.
Maybe it’s art.
Maybe it’s taking a brisk walk with the sun on our face.

Maybe it’s homemade cookies.
Maybe it’s a handwritten note.
Maybe it’s a leisurely drive with the windows rolled down.

My friends, hone in on what’s important to you and then sift, sift, sift—shake those millions of distractions away so you can hold those treasured moments in your loving hands.

Then one day, maybe sooner than we think, this rule will apply to all of us:

In our house, when someone says, “This is important,” we don’t ask questions. We open our eyes, our hands, and our hearts and hold as much as life as we possibly can.

what's important

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Friends of The Hands Free Revolution, I am thrilled to tell you that the HANDS FREE HOUSE RULES can be in your home too! The exquisite print is now available in the HANDS FREE shop! Use the code: HOUSERULES at checkout for free shipping on any items in the shop through September 4. International shipping will receive a shipping discount.

I cannot believe it, but my new book, HANDS FREE LIFE, releases ONE week from today! That means there is just more week to take advantage of the amazing pre-order bonus (receive a free eBook download of my New York Times bestseller, HANDS FREE MAMA with any pre-order of HANDS FREE LIFE). Click here for details.

The reviews being posted by early readers of my book have made my heart so full. If you want to know more about the book and see how it is impacting people’s lives, I would be honored if you read what some of the most talented bloggers on the Internet are saying about HANDS FREE LIFE. Also, I have been sharing Hands Free inspiration in lots of welcoming spaces. I have listed this week’s guest posts below the reviews. Thank you so much for your support! 

My writing can be found this week … 

9/1 Purposeful Faith: “A Moment We All Need to Give Ourselves

and Carin Kilby Clark: Vow to Breathe” 

9/2 Amy McCready “The Single Most Important Parenting Action We Can Do Today”

9/4 Simple Homeschool “Going Beyond ‘I Love You’ To Build Up a Soul”

Lose Yesterday’s Regrets With a Do-Over Today

I love spending time with my nephews. But because we live in different states and my daughters always monopolize their little cousins’ time when we’re together, I rarely get alone time with them. But when I do, something magical happens. Time slows down. I become calmer, happier, and more attentive. I marvel at their long eyelashes and the way their small hands feel in mine. I ask them questions like, “How long does it take a tree to grow?” and marvel at the certainty of their responses. “’Bout five minutes,” beautiful Sam said when he was four.

DSC_0445

When I am with my nephews it’s like getting a do-over. I get to do the things I wish I’d done when my daughters were three and five. But I didn’t because that is when I tried to control everything. That is when I worried so much about the outcome that I forgot to enjoy the experience. That’s when I counted my calories and my kids’ mistakes. That is when my voice was harsh more than it was kind. That’s when my phone ruled my thoughts and actions. That’s when I gave my time and energy to people I barely knew and had nothing left for the people I named myself.

But I try not to wallow in regret. It sucks the joy from today.

So instead I try to do better. And time with my nephews is a like a do-over. And it’s a reminder of what beautiful moments can come when you just hold a child’s hand and let him lead.

[Read more…]

When Life Feels Like a Mess, There’s Something We Can Do

signing HFM for my nurse, Kristen

“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.”
Brené Brown

My friend lost her sister to cancer four months ago. She talks about it—the pain and disbelief, the pressure to move on, the things that help and the things that don’t. She talks about the good days and the indescribably bad days.

I listen to everything she offers. I tuck it away for safekeeping. With her help, I’ll know a better thing to say when someone hurts. With her help, I have some perspective on inconsequential problems when they’re getting more attention than they deserve.

Each time my friend shares, I am struck by admiration and awe. I think to myself, she never wanted to be the messenger; she never wanted to be an expert on grief; she never wanted to know what words, what actions bring a moment of solace to an aching soul.

But she is. And she does.

This is now my friend’s story and as much as she’d like to deny it, she’s chosen to own it—quite bravely and brilliantly, I might add.

I thought of my friend and her unchosen expertise when I had a CT scan in June. It was the first time I laid beneath a big scary machine and held my breath for dear life. When the machine began to inch forward slowly, I thought of my friend and her story. I wasn’t sure how my story was going to play out, but I decided I would own it. Tell my close friends what I was going through. Say, “I’m scared,” when I felt scared. Ask for help when I was in pain. Above all, I knew it was important to pay attention. So I vowed to take it all in—the good and bad—and perhaps discover something worth sharing in the process.

[Read more…]

The Conversation I Almost Missed & the Future It Could’ve Cost

you make me feel like I belong under the sun -citizen cope

 “You make me feel like I belong under the sun.” –Citizen Cope

I was not expecting to experience such an emotional response when Dr. Shefali Tsabary shared her video about parent shaming with me. It was the following words, found two minutes and twenty seconds into the video, that brought me to tears:

“I came to you so you could honor my soul, nurture my worth, and preserve my spirit. Yet it is you who annihilates my very essence in the name of parenting, in the name of love, in the name of teaching.”

Dr. Shefali then calls on parents to “become the person they are meant to be.” She describes it from a child’s perspective as:

The parent
The guardian
The usher of my soul

Not too long ago, I was good at shaming my children. It wasn’t obvious. It was subtle. Exasperated breaths. Eye rolls. Belittling. Inducing guilt. Acting like they should know better. But they were children. They were learning, and I seemed to forget that.

I thought it was my job to teach them a lesson.

But what I was teaching them was that I could never be satisfied. I was teaching them to confide in someone else—someone who would be more understanding and less reactive. I was teaching them to strive for perfection, no matter the cost.

Although I’d improved on seeing the positives rather than the negatives in people and situations, there was still work to do. It was an intentional change in my approach to life that revealed exactly where further improvement was needed and more importantly, why.

[Read more…]

Replace ‘Guilt’ with ‘Gift’ & Watch it Become a Life-Changer

guilt #HFM

Guilt can be loud.

Are they getting enough?
Am I doing enough?
Should I be doing more?

You should be playing more.
You should be planning more.
You should be having more fun.

Earlier this summer Guilt got very loud and had a lot to say to me.

The old me would have listened and accepted its critical words as truth. But the Hands Free me has learned the best way to silence Guilt is to pull back the veil of darkness and shed light on the matter. I do this by telling someone what Guilt is saying.

In this case, I told my mom.

[Read more…]

The Glass Jar Every Human Being Needs to Hold

the jar of love #HFM“If I don’t say this now I will surely break
As I’m leaving the one I want to take.” –The Fray

“Is there a chance something could happen?” she asked. “You know … with the surgery.”

I knew what my eight-year-old daughter was asking. Although it had just dawned on her that something could go terribly wrong, the thought had plagued me for weeks.

“Well, it’s possible, but not likely. People have surgery all the time and they come out just fine—actually, they come out better than before. I think that is how it will be with me. But we can pray.”

And so we bowed our heads my child let her fears and hopes be known.

I decided to keep my greatest fear to myself—the one where surgery sabotaged my plan of doling out daily bits of love, wisdom, and guidance as my children grow.

If I could bottle up my love I would. I thought to myself.

And then I remembered—there was a way to bottle up my love. I’d shown a group of 31 fifth graders how to do just that a few months ago.

[Read more…]

Ending the Stoplight Excuses

ending the stoplight excusesI could say I was sleep deprived—two young children who weren’t sleeping through the night.

I could say I was under a lot of stress—just moved to a new city, husband traveling, feeling isolated and depressed.

I could say my children were not in the car with me … and I was just making a quick call.

I could say those things, but they don’t matter—they don’t matter when you find yourself blowing through a red light and the grill of a truck comes within a few feet of your car door.

My hands shook for a good twenty minutes after coming through the near miss completely unscathed. In my rattled state, I felt the urge to reprimand myself for being so careless with my precious life—but I didn’t. Instead, I made excuses. But excuses for such reckless behavior come out sounding pathetic, hallow, and downright ludicrous. So I didn’t tell anyone … and acted like it never happened.

I’d like to say that incident changed me.

And it did … for about a week. For a week, I didn’t touch my phone while driving, but the urge to call and chat and check were strong. So I went back to making excuses.

It’ll just be a second.
The traffic isn’t bad.
I’ll just check at a stoplight.
I’m good at multi-tasking.
The kids aren’t with me.
This call is important.
This message can’t wait.

And for two years after the red light incident, I continued my distracted ways. When I think about the number of times I put my life, my children’s lives, and other drivers’ lives at risk for the sake of a meaningless call or message, I feel physically ill.

But one glorious day, while out for a run, I was overcome with regret, sorrow, and clarity.  I vowed to stop making excuses as to why I was missing my life – and risking my life – for my distractions.

Within hours of that life-changing run, I took one of the first steps toward living free from distraction’s powerful grip. I turned off the notifications on my phone and put it in a drawer. No longer would I be controlled by the sound of notifications, beeps, and dings. No longer would my attention on the living beings in my home be suddenly dropped because of the summons from a little black box.

[Read more…]

The Loss of Life Beneath Your Skin & How to Revive It

making tea HFM“We push and pull
And I fall down sometimes
And I’m not letting go
You hold the other line
‘Cause there is a light
In your eyes, in your eyes.”
–Mat Kearney

A few months ago my newly turned 12-year-old daughter got into making iced tea.

We seek out new flavors at quaint little farmers’ markets and at fancy tea shops in the mall. My child holds the canister and asks questions of the vendor that I do not understand. She pays with her babysitting money.

I stand back and marvel at her maturity and her newfound passion.

She comes home with her wares and goes right to work. It’s quite a process, and she takes it very seriously. She makes a large pitcher and offers me a glass. My daughter knows I am trying to stop drinking diet soda once and for all. So whenever she makes a new flavor, she says, “I think you’ll like this one, Mama.”

She holds out that glass of deep orange liquid as if handing me a sunset made with her very own two hands.

I didn’t know why I felt like crying happy tears at such an offering until my friend shared something about her own life experience.
[Read more…]

The Unlikely Reaction to Filling Life’s Holes

waiting 2 #HFM“Oh, the joy of nothing is a sweeter something
And I will hold it in my heart.
Yes, I will hold it in my heart.” –Foy Vance

Exactly one year ago my family moved to a new state. I felt internal pressure to dive into activities, make friends, and navigate new territories because that’s what I did in our three previous moves.

But instead of going outside to become acclimated, I came inside.

I flanked myself with family. We planted seeds in the backyard. We waded in nearby streams. We paid attention to the way the summer rain sounded on our rooftop. My blog went quiet. I filled many notebooks, only my eyes privy to the words I’d share when ready.

I did not jump in. I did not take action. But I was always looking—looking for The Moment when it felt like everything would be okay in this new place. Much to my relief, there were many of those soul-assuring moments when divine connections and experiences brought tears to my grateful eyes. We’ll be okay, I often reminded myself quietly and consistently.

Despite the moments of assurance, I could not ignore the missing pieces—the important parts that made our life a life before the transition. These particular missing pieces created a painful void that could not be denied.

[Read more…]

If Life Could Begin Again, It Might Begin Like This

Popsicles #HFMJust living is not enough … one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.
-Hans Christian Andersen

Last week I shared my hopes and intentions for our children to have an All-Senses Summer. Yet something quite unexpected happened when I described the smells, tastes, and feelings I associated with my childhood summers—it inspired you to share yours. Like me, you have your own summer memories that conjure up feelings of joy … freedom … creativity … relaxation … comfort … and contentment.

But things might be different now.

Adult Summer may not produce such positive feelings.

For many, Adult Summer has its own challenges, bringing forth feelings of worry … guilt … comparison … impatience … frustration … and stress.

I have to work. I wish I had more time to play with my family.
I desperately need a moment of peace. I cannot breathe.
I am embarrassed to wear my bathing suit. I wish my insecurities didn’t hold me back.
We can’t afford a vacation right now. How will this be a memorable summer?
Will my kids regress over the summer? We cannot afford to lose what we gained.

As adults, it’s not like our responsibilities disappear in the summer. It’s not like we are suddenly free to do whatever we please. It’s not like we are released from the stresses and burdens of our everyday lives. But Summer. We are talking about Summer. If we cannot find new freedoms, forgotten smiles, and more breathing room in summer, when can we find them? [Read more…]