Day Openers to Breathe More, Stress Less, & Carry You Through

“Hope that you spend your days
And they all add up.
And when that sun goes down
Hope you raise your cup.”
 -One Republic, I Lived

Last weekend my 12-year-old daughter prepared a special birthday gift for one of her best friends. As a generous gift giver from an early age, it did not surprise me that Natalie put great thought into gathering her friend’s favorite things. Having outgrown the tendency to re-gift gently used items from around the house, the basket was filled with items Natalie purchased with her hard-earned babysitting money. What did surprise me about this gift were the envelopes tucked inside. My younger daughter discovered them while admiring the gift before her sister left for the party.

“Wow! This is so thoughtful,” I told my older daughter when she discovered her little sister and me bent over the gift basket. Natalie quickly gathered the envelopes up. I sensed she didn’t want us to make a fuss over this special touch, but I had to ask, “What’s inside the envelopes?”

“Just inspirational messages,” she said as she hugged the basket to her chest and headed to the door. “They’re just words to help my friend through situations that might come up.”

day openers HFM

day openers HFM

day openers HFM

Just words to carry her through.

There was nothing just about that.

Although I could not know for sure, I felt certain those envelopes would outlive the Eos lip balm. They would be more coveted than the warm PJ pants. They would be remembered long after the party was over. At the age of 12, this child got it—she got the point. I live each day of my life desperately wanting to get it too.

But so often I fall short—especially during chaotic, busy times like holidays. I get caught up in what’s on the outside—the tasks, the preparation, and how it looks. I forget what’s underneath—the memories, the connections, and how it feels. In light of personal health struggles and worldly tragedies, I don’t want to miss the point this holiday season.

Perhaps you don’t either.

So I’ve taken a page from Natalie’s book. I’ve written some special “OPEN WHEN …” inspirational passages for us to use in the days ahead. They have been created in the spirit of Hands Free Life Daily Declarations which help me (and many who are reading my new book) start the day in a positive, intentional direction. My talented friend Kristin of Two Cannoli made the 9 Day Openers into a beautiful printable found at the end of the post for our ease. Feel free to use each Day Opener as a mantra, a prayer, a lifeline, or an aspiration. Feel free to use them in order, trusting that message will be exactly what you need that day. Or feel free to use the same opener day after day if it really resonates with you. Feel free to print them, cut them, post them, or tuck them in your purse or wallet and carry them with you. Feel free to pass them on. Feel free to gift them as if you wrote them yourself. But most of all, feel free to live them. Let us all live out these life-enhancing day-openers as much as humanly possible. Let us not miss the point this holiday season.

9 Day Openers to Carry Us Through 

Open when … it’s hard to show up:

Today I will show up even when it’s hard, even when it requires going out of my comfort zone, even when it means facing people who are difficult to face. I will be kind to myself and give myself grace for trying. I shall clasp my hands together and show up. I shall hold my own hand and be brave. Today I will not walk away from the chance to offer myself a divine invitation to step fully into life and shine in all my glory.

Open when … you want to feel grateful:

Today when I make the bed, I will rest my hand on the warm spot where my beloved slept. If I hold my hand there for just a moment, this action has the power to change my attitude, alter my perspective, and soften my heart about bed making and other monotonous tasks that consume my life. That one tiny glimpse of goodness will bring peace in the midst of challenge, exhaustion, and uncertainty. That one tiny connection to what really matters will fuel me forward. My goal today will not be how much I accomplish, but how much I noticed the goodness within it.

day openers HFM

Open when … you need self-care:

Today I will remember I have limits. I have dreams. I have needs. I deserve affection, rest, sustenance, and grace, just like everyone else. Even the one who holds up the world needs a reprieve. Even the one who doles out the love needs replenished. Even the best fall down sometimes. Today it is necessary to look after me. This may look like a cup of tea, a long walk, a good book, more water, more sleep, or more forgiveness. Today it is necessary to breathe life into my weary bones. I am worthy of love too.

Open when … the outside world ignites fear, stress, or despair:

Today I will turn my attention away from the negativity filling my senses and my newsfeed. I will turn to the people I love and notice there is still so much goodness to be grasped and celebrated. Goodness comes down the stairs with crazy morning hair. It has a milk mustache and stinky feet. It puts gasoline in my car and kisses me goodnight. It bags my grocery with a smile. It teaches my children. It hugs me with shaky, wrinkled hands. The ability to detect goodness where others see no good is more than a day changer; it’s a life changer. Today I will notice the good in the world and in my world.

day openers HFM

Open when… you want LOVE to be your first response:

Today I will take a 3-second pause before responding in times of conflict, stress, and struggle. In that momentary pause, I will see the person in front of me as a human being with a need or a hurt – not as an annoyance or an inconvenience in my day. Today is not going to go perfectly; this I know. Important items will be forgotten. We will be late getting on the road. Things might not fit. There will be long lines and rudeness. But I will not contribute to the negativity. If strive to communicate with hints of kindness and traces of love, I have the power to save the moment—and quite possibly, save the day.

Open when … you want to DO less and BE more:

Today I refuse to be a moving target that my family cannot hold. Today I refuse to multi-task the moments away. Next week, next year, or ten years from now, my family will not remember what I made for dinner—whether it was from a box or homemade. They will not remember if the bathroom counter shined or if it was covered in globs of toothpaste. But they will probably remember if I laugh at the dinner table or hugged them fiercely at bedtime. Today I want them to remember my laugh and my hugs more than anything else.

day openers HFM

Open when … you need to forgive yourself

Today I will not look back in regret. Whether it was a mistake from yesterday or ten years ago, it is in the past. Dwelling on it or berating myself for it comes at a cost. It sabotages the opportunity of this moment—to make a memory, to create a loving connection, or to feel joy in my soul. Oftentimes, I am the only one standing in my way of a new beginning. Today I will not stand in my own way. Today is a new beginning. I shall grasp it with both hands.

Open when … you lose sight of what matters:

 Today I shall not collapse in utter exhaustion without having one significant memory to cherish because I chose to be too busy, too annoyed, too distracted, and too focused on perfection and productivity to recognize and appreciate the blessings in my life. Today my goal for my family is this: To gather together with our messy, imperfect hearts and create memories that outlast us all.

Because when we do this, we can breathe … and love … and maybe even laugh a little during this precious time we have.

Let us be open … open to the goodness right at our fingertips and under our breath.

The goodness shall carry us through.

day openers HFM


In an effort to be fully present with my people and my beating heart, the blog and Hands Free Revolution page will be quiet for a spell. But trust me, by living fully I will be gathering insights and reflections to share with you upon my return. If you happen to be at Target doing some holiday shopping and need a meaningful gift for someone you love (or you!) Hands Free Life is there! You made it happen! My book will be stocked there through the holidays because you supported it during the trial period. I am so grateful! And if you are an online shopper, HANDS FREE LIFE can be found right here. It is chock full of daily declarations and truthful stories about breathing, living, and loving. The stellar Amazon reviews are saying it’s a life-changer. That makes my heart full.

 And lastly, if you should get to take a walk or have some ME time and want to hear a mindfulness expert with a beautiful Australian accent ask me important questions about living an intentional life, please listen to this lovely chat I had with Brooke of Slow Your Home. You can forward to the 11-minute mark if you want to get right to the conversation.

* Don’t forget to print the list below made by my lovely and talented writer friend, Kristin Shaw. If you feel it’s going to help you in some way over the next week or month, I’d be grateful if you share it with someone else. Let’s spread the hope & goodness. Unsaved Preview Document

When You Want to Pull the Blanket Over Your Head, Do This Instead

hospital #HFMThe smell of hospitals in winter
And the feeling that it’s all a lot of oysters, but no pearls
All at once you look across a crowded room
To see the way that light attaches to a girl.
–Counting Crows,  A Long December

A few days ago I went to the hospital for a CT scan of my abdomen and pelvis. When the technician shut the door so I could undress, I was alone with my nerves, heart rate monitors, and a pair of oversized scrubs. I nervously looked around the room.

I was looking for warm blankets.

There weren’t any, but I had faith there would be some. I vowed to keep my eyes open as I peeled off my clothes with shaky hands. About an hour later, I found what I was looking for … and maybe it is what you are looking for today. This is my story, may it bring hope where it is needed today …

When I had two kidney surgeries five months ago, they were at two different hospitals, two weeks apart. At the first hospital, my teeth chattered a lot. Before the surgery and after the surgery, my teeth constantly rattled. My kind nurse said, “Oh honey. We need to get you a warm blanket.”

She walked off briskly and came back with a clean white blanket that had been warmed to a perfect temperature. I could not believe it. It was such an unexpected kindness … an absolute luxury … a going-the-extra-mile action that I didn’t think people did anymore. My teeth stopped chattering almost instantly.

“Thank you. Thank you,” I said for this perfect gift I could hold both figuratively and literally in my time of fear.

I ended up asking for warm blankets more than pain meds during my stay. I was pretty sure they had healing powers.
[Read more…]

The Clasped Hands of Those Who Want to Belong

belong 2

My hands were sweaty. I saw the others gathered at the bus stop. I was new to bus stops. I was new to the neighborhood. They were talking and laughing and looking so at home. It took every ounce of courage to walk up. Every day it took courage to walk up. It was like that for six months.

This may sound like a childhood memory, but it is not.

This is one year ago from a woman in her early 40’s who by all standards appears confident, secure, friendly, and comfortable in her skin.

So when a blog reader wrote, “I feel isolated every time I walk into the schoolyard with my children because I feel I don’t fit in,” I got teary. I understood. And I wanted her to know she was not alone.

I’ve always experienced great apprehension when approaching groups. Walking into parties, classrooms, meetings, conferences, cafeterias, and social gatherings is difficult for me. I’d rather stay back, just listen, and keep my voice to myself. But if I do, an invitation—a very important invitation—is lost. Let me explain …

I was asked to speak at a conference a few weeks ago. Many people from my book publisher were also in attendance and they were hosting a gathering for their authors. I thought about the initial entrance and my hands got sweaty. For me that’s always the hardest part. Eyes turn to look … people huddled in conversation … my mind racing about what to say. I used to decline opportunities because of that initial angst, but I’ve learned a little trick: ask someone to go with you.

In this case, I invited two incredibly wonderful authors and human beings, Kari and Kelly, to join me. I would excitedly introduce them to my publishing team in hopes it would benefit them as well. The three of us walked to the party together and by the time we arrived, I almost forgot to be nervous. With two kind people by my side, the whole evening went far better than expected.

Later one of them said she felt like my invitation to the publisher’s party was a divine invitation to life—that despite there being so many established writers in the world, there was a place for her voice too.

I began to wonder if anyone really feels like she (or he) belongs.

[Read more…]

Life-Saving Reminders for a Child

"If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain; If I can ease one life the aching, Or cool one pain, Or help one fainting robin Unto his nest again, I shall not live in vain." -Emily Dickinson

“If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.” -Emily Dickinson

The term cyber-bullying sounds so futuristic … so foreign … and so far-off.  When I heard the word about a year ago, I thought I had plenty of time before this type of threat could touch my family. Part of me wanted to believe we could avoid it altogether—that it was something that happened to “other people”.

But now I know that kind of thinking is just foolish and naïve. I know this because cyber-bullying has been getting frighteningly close to home. Family friends and loyal readers of my blog are telling me just how easily it happens … just how damaging it feels to the victim … just how helpless it feels to the parent … and in some case, just how devastating it feels to be the bully who never intended for things to take a tragic turn.

I’ve made a conscious effort to protect my children from the dangers of the online world by installing filtering and accountability software. I have established an open line of communication with them and am involved in their online activities. But despite having these external protections in place, cyber-bullying (and good-old fashioned face-to-face bullying) can still happen and is happening. In many instances, these attacks are coming from trusted friends and classmates within a child’s social circle. [source]

At times, I’m tempted to banish technology from our lives—but I know that is not a realistic solution. Electronic devices are becoming an integral part of the education system. For my older daughter, these devices have quickly become tools that are required to complete daily schoolwork. I watch in awe as she uses technology to create, navigate, and acquire important skills for the future.

It is imperative that I continue to provide external protection for my child in the digital world, but that is not enough. I must also provide internal protection—protection of her heart, mind, spirit, and emotional wellbeing. I must provide affirming words and beliefs that she can use as armor if and when she is attacked.

A very brave mother spurred this action in me. Her beautiful and vibrant daughter, Rebecca, took her life after being a victim of cyber-bullying. As I read the significant actions that Rebecca’s mother, Tricia Norman, took to protect her daughter and remove her from the toxic environment, I couldn’t help but weep knowing the outcome. The mother noted that she thought things were going better for Rebecca at her new school, but the child kept her distress from her family. “Maybe she thought she could handle it on her own,” Ms. Norman said.

Maybe she thought she could handle it on her own.

After reading that particular sentence several times, my role as a parent of a child growing up in the 21st century became crystal clear. I want to be sure my child knows she doesn’t have to go it alone.

[Read more…]

Bridging the Gap Created by Waves of Criticism

wave erosion

On the same day I heard from a woman about her non-existent relationship with her teenage son, my 12-year-old daughter created a wave erosion project for middle school science class.

She did it all by herself except for cutting the foam with a sharp kitchen knife. We huddled together on the floor the garage as I chipped away at the dense foam.

“Just a little more, Mama,” she directed.


I chipped away at the structure so it would appear battered and beat down by waves so powerful they altered the form forever.

But he has bad breath, so I tell him.
But he needs to shower. Is that so wrong to point it out?
But he never remembers to do what he’s supposed to so I nag.


I did not personally know the woman who was reaching out to me in desperation, but I knew exactly where she was coming from. I could hear the corrections in my mind as if they were my own. From personal experience, I knew her intentions were good—perhaps thinking her commentary would help her son fit in or become more responsible. But not only were the corrections ineffective, they were also driving the teen away from a mother who loved him dearly. That’s where they were now—far apart. The mother wanted to know if she could bridge the gap between them after years of chipping away his spirit.

I did not know, but the fact that she was asking … searching … taking a difficult look inward made me hopeful.

[Read more…]

The Vacation Moments of Everyday Life You Might Be Missing

what is necessary #HFM

I didn’t realize how poorly I’d been sleeping.

I didn’t realize how long that medical test kit had been sitting on my dresser waiting for my attention.

I didn’t realize how tight my shoulders were or how dark the circles under my eyes had become.

I didn’t realize how much I’d missed the sound of certain people’s voices, as texting had become my usual mode of communication.

I didn’t realize how much I needed to immerse myself in silence …

Until I did.

Today I come off a two-week blogging break. It was a terrible time to go quiet. My new book was just picked up by Target. It was being “tested” in stores nationwide to see how well it did last week. When I should have been tweeting, posting, and encouraging people to buy my book, I was getting my nails done by a 9-year-old with little manicure experience and carving scary faces on pumpkins.

what is necessary #HFM

what is necessary #HFM

My book had just gained serious momentum, I knew going quiet—no interviews, no viral posts, no podcasts, and no email—would certainly not keep things going. Going quiet meant the glorious momentum would drop off. I could have pushed myself. After all, I have an impressive track record when it comes to powering through the exhaustion … ignoring the warning signs of burnout … and making excuses as to why I cannot slow down. “Someday, I’ll have time to do that, ” slides off my lips quite well—at least it used to.

But ‘someday’ is nowhere to live your life. This I have learned.

[Read more…]

An Open Window to a Bravely Lived Life

windows #HFM
“Let your words be anything but empty
Why don’t you tell them the truth?
Say what you wanna say,
And let the words fall out.
Honestly, I wanna see you be brave.”
–Sara Bareilles

It was late, but for some reason I decided to clean the pantry. A friend had been weighing on my heart. I picked up the phone and called her while I arranged cans of beans and tossed near-empty boxes of old pasta.

It quickly became apparent why I’d called her. She was experiencing some tough revelations. Was it a mid-life crisis? She wondered out loud. “You’re going to hate me when I tell you my truths,” she said.

I assured her that nothing she could say or do would change my love and respect for her.

“You are kind, compassionate—you are a good person. Nothing you say will change that,” I said.

My friend took a deep breath and shared thoughts, feelings, and questions that were hard to admit to herself, let alone speak out loud. But she said no truth that any one of us hasn’t had or could have at some point in our lives. She was just brave enough to admit it.

“Do you hate me? You probably aren’t going to talk to me anymore,” she said worriedly. I could practically see her cringing through the phone.

“My opinion of you has not changed. I love you. I am here to support you as you try to figure out exactly who you are and what you need to be the truest and happiest version of yourself,” I said confidently. “It would make me sad if you were to live an unauthentic life for the next 40 years,” I added.

Unbeknownst to me, my 12-year-old daughter had come up from watching a football game with her dad. She’d been listening with open ears and wide eyes. This is my wise-beyond-her-years child. She is my question asker … my leave-no-stone-unturned child … the one who’s been drawn to the world’s sufferings since age three. I predicted the questions would be coming.

“Is everything okay?” she asked as soon as I said goodbye to my friend.

“Well, my friend suffered a lot of trauma in her childhood and now she is dealing with a lot of things she has not allowed herself to deal with. She is trying to figure who she really us—not who the world expects her to be. And she chose me to share her truths,” I explained.

“And she was afraid you wouldn’t like her anymore—the real her?” she asked, following along quite maturely.

That’s when I knew. I knew I was being given a beautiful opportunity right then and there. With my pantry in disarray and this brown-eyed beauty donned in her Indianapolis Colts jersey staring back at me, I had the chance to highlight this moment in time. What I was about to say would be stored away in this child’s mind for years, maybe decades, and referred to often. I chose my words carefully.

[Read more…]

Break This Morning Habit to Create More Time & Goodness in Your Day

morning ritual #HFM

If mornings are the toughest part of the day … if you feel agitated before you even get out the door … if you’ve had a heavy heart and can’t explain why, I am going to encourage you to make one small change in your morning routine: Resist the urge to reach for the phone.

Starting your day by checking the phone is like flipping a switch from peace to productivity … from loving nurturer to grumpy manager … from present to absent. Reaching for the phone takes you out of your cozy pajamas-clad world and catapults you into the fast-paced, information overloaded world. Once your mind leaves your loved ones and fixates on all the things you need to do, it’s hard to come back—so hard to come back. Scrolling, clicking, and responding sneakily rob you of the precious minutes you need to get out the door on time—and then everyone is yelling. I know these things because checking the phone was how I began my day—or perhaps I should say sabotaged my day—for several years.

Things are different now. And I attribute an overall improvement in my home environment and personal wellbeing to one small change: Reaching for meaningful things rather than the phone to start my day.

[Read more…]

Reaching Your Child In a World of Distraction

park connection 2At my very first Hands Free speaking engagement several years ago, a woman in attendance said her children were getting to the age where they just wanted to do their own thing. She felt that the older her children grew, the more difficult it was to find shared interests and spend time together.

Honestly, I didn’t know what to say. This concept of one’s children not being permanently attached to one’s side seemed completely foreign to me. I simply did not believe the day would come when I could use the restroom without a voyeur. I could not fathom the thought that my younger child would one day resign from her duties as my fulltime bodyguard and actually let me out of her sight.

But here I am several years later and it’s happened. My daughters love to play together. And I am no longer needed nor invited. They set up the Barbie house and play for hours without any need for my creative storylines and juicy plot twists. They play school and inform me I am over the age limit to be a student. And when they log on to and starting talking gems, avatars, and dens, I might as well be invisible.

But I am all about being real in this space I call “Hands Free Mama,” so here’s some realness: When my kids are in their own little world, it’s quite tempting to go into mine. It’s tempting to pop open the laptop and knock out another chapter in my book, draft a new blog post, or even just pick up a delicious book I have been dying to read. While there is nothing wrong with any of these activities, nor is there anything wrong with my children playing by themselves, I can see how easy it would be to allow separate lives to become a way of life. I can see how easily the space between us could grow until the gap is so wide we can no longer reach one another.

What motivates me to get up from my keyboard and participate, even just as an observer in my children’s preferred activities, is the whole reason I started this Hands Free journey in the first place. I don’t want to look up at my children’s high school graduation ceremony and see a stranger walking across the stage.

[Read more…]

‘Choose Love’ 21-Day Challenge: Part 2

choose love challenge 2

* On September 22, I posted a passage on The Hands Free Revolution page illustrating how ‘Choosing Love’ as a first response might play out in a typical day. The concept deeply resonated with many people. I’ve added it to this post and decided now was the perfect time to bring back this transformative 21-day challenge. Let love start this day. Let love end this day. Let love transform the minutes in between …

I never know where interviews are going to take me – but I can almost always be sure they will take me back—back in time. And although most days I try my best to look forward, sometimes it’s enlightening to reflect back and see something I can only see with time. This is my story, as well as a challenge, should you choose to accept.

It was this, the second to last question during my interview on Better Worldians Radio that stirred something inside me: “With the success of your book and popularity of your website I imagine you could be busier than ever. How do you keep the balance and keep living Hands Free?” asked Gregory, one of the show’s hosts.

I briefly described several strategies I used when I began my journey that are still in practice today. Wanting to place emphasis on what I feel is the most important one, practicing daily distraction-free rituals, I shared this story …

[Read more…]