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.

For the first time in four years, my eleven-year-old daughter did not have small children to come to her homemade summer school.

She stopped making lesson plans and talk of becoming a teacher disappeared.

For the first time in four years, my eight-year-old daughter did not have a guitar instructor who taught her both the singing and strumming.

She stopped singing and the joy slowly diminished from the pluck of her guitar strings.

For the first time in years, I was writing a book without my sister friends—those who knew and loved the pre Hands Free version of me and had supported me through the book writing process once before.

I stopped writing the second book despite the looming deadline; I just couldn’t find the words.

The missing pieces seemed to be emphasized when my younger daughter would crawl into bed at night. She’d slide her hands beneath the pillow and bury her face into its softness. After breathing deeply, she’d say, “Put your head on my pillow, Mama. Feel how soft and cozy it is? It feels like home. The real home.”

Pictures of her best friends sat by that pillow. Do you think they’ll forget me? She often asked.

When there are missing pieces in our lives, things don’t feel quite right.

Naturally, my controlling, Type-A personality surfaced during these moments of insecurity, imploring me to fill the missing pieces in our new life. Research! Network! Plot and plan! Take action! Dive in! Get all the details in order! my inner perfectionist ordered.

For the first time in my life, I did not take action. I waited. I trusted. I listened. I held on.

i choose love #HFMFor the first time in my life, I allowed myself to simply BE despite the urge to fix the hurts and fill the spaces. My prayer was that by being quiet, I would know when the right thing came along; I would know when to take action.

It came six months into our transition when I went to a speaking event of one of my favorite authors in a town nearby. It came three months after that when Listen To Your Mother held auditions for their show in my new city. It came again one month ago when I felt called to bring my daughter’s former guitar and voice teacher to perform for our neighborhood as we danced on green grass and picnic-covered blankets.

With each deliberate action, a missing piece was divinely filled. Last week, nearly a year since the move, it appeared that those pieces were no longer absent. I looked through the lens of my camera with tear-filled eyes to see less emptiness and more life …

Precious little children delighting in Natalie’s summer school (now known as Disney Princess Camp) …

Natalie's princess camp #HFMAvery joyfully singing and strumming “Amazing Grace” with her extraordinary new guitar and voice teacher (a beautiful writer divinely appointed to encourage our child) …

making music #HFMAnd me, dancing to live music with new sister friends and celebrating a completed book going to print in mere weeks …

dance HFM 2Our family recently returned to our house after visiting dear friends from our old neighborhood. Avery snuggled into her bed and said, “It’s good to be back.” And then with a contented smile she added, “Home.”

One year ago, I never would have imagined these words from her lips.

One year ago, I wondered if I should be doing more to fill the missing pieces.

But in the waiting and the listening, the voids were filled far better than I could have ever planned.

My friends, I have spent a year gathering hope. And I think it was so I could offer it to you today. Whether you face a physical move or one of life’s many transitions, there’s a good chance you have some missing pieces. And although these holes feel empty, worrisome, and stressful, I want to suggest an alternative to what your head is probably telling you to do:

Maybe the best thing you could do right now is just sit with it awhile.

Maybe the bravest thing you could do right now is just decide this will not defeat you.

Maybe the most productive thing you could do right now is just fold your hands in solitude.

Maybe the most sensible thing you could do right now is just laugh … laugh in the face of it all.

Maybe the most powerful thing you could do right now is just close your eyes and envision a positive outcome.

Maybe the most loving thing you could do right now is just give yourself room to breathe.

Maybe the best thing to do right now looks like nothing at all.

But it’s not.

Because when you’re gathering hope,
it’s patient.
When you’re gathering strength,
it’s quiet.
When you’re gathering resilience,
it’s unnoticeable.

In the face of transition, challenge, and uncertainty,
Sometimes the best thing you can do right now is just hold on and listen.

Because in this Great Act of Inaction, you are better able to hear the most important callings on your heart. And in some round about way, in some time period beyond your control, may those voids will be filled in ways you could have never imagined.

DSC_0149

*******************************************************

Friends of The Hands Free Revolution, when I took six weeks off from the blog and FB page last summer to adjust to our new life, something quite profound happened to my writing. My long-time editor immediately noticed the difference when I began writing again. We both agreed that a higher level of quality and expression had been reached. My productivity driven mind was given undeniable proof that sometimes production must cease so creative gifts can flourish and grow. Given what is ahead with the HANDS FREE LIFE book release in September, I am going to go offline for several weeks to come inside … flank myself with family … scribble notes that will become inspiring blog posts to share with you. I hope to write for you for a very long time. I think substantial reprieves from the online world will help me do that. Thank you for supporting my work with your comments, post shares, purchases in the Hands Free Shop, and by buying my books. My family and I have the deepest gratitude for each one of you. I will miss you while I am offline, but know I will be back better than ever in mid-July.

My NEW BOOK releases on September 8! Secure your copy by pre-ordering from Amazon or Barnes & Noble today!

hands free life author photo

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…]

An Invitation to Save Summer from the Screens

invitation #HFM“Rejoice as summer should…chase away sorrows by living.” ― Melissa Marr

The other night I was taking a walk when I came upon a man pushing a lawn mower across his overgrown grass. My pace slowed as I watched tiny blades of grass dance over his yard. I breathed in deeply and smiled.

Summer

It is the smell of fresh lawn trimmings and gasoline.
It is the sound of crickets and thunderstorms.
It is the taste of homemade vanilla ice cream.
It is the feeling of hot cement under bare feet.
It is more than a season and more than a memory. It is my favorite, most alive feeling, and it can be awakened with one smell, one taste, or one remembrance from my childhood summers.

Because when I was a kid, summer was an all-senses experience.

I cut the grass blasting tunes on my Walkman, waving to my dad as he supervised me mow the steep hill in back. I sported chlorine-scented hair and Love’s Baby Soft perfume. I wrote notes to my best friend in bubble-letter script and mailed them because that was second best to passing them in class. I babysat and carried a blue-eyed toddler on my hip treating her like the beloved child I someday hoped to have. I beat the fuzzy yellow tennis ball against the garage door in rhythmic succession. There was always one long car trip with my family—sweaty legs that stuck to the seat and ice cold soda from the cooler in back.

Now here I stand on an uneven sidewalk admiring a stranger’s lawn mower lines wondering what my children’s summer associations will be.

I fear for the extinction of nighttime hide-and-go-seek and tadpole catching in a shallow creek. It doesn’t take scientific data to tell me that an All-Senses Summer is greatly threatened by electronic screens, over-scheduling, endless duties and distractions—both on my children’s part and mine.

As the man tending his lawn gave me a friendly wave, I forced a smile wondering how I could save the season of watermelon-stained smiles from permanent extinction.

[Read more…]

Change the Child or Change Your World

noticer 5“You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry, don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.”
–Walter Hagen

I would still be getting sick from sheer exhaustion and sleep deprivation.

I would still be making my way through typed to-do lists and neglecting the most important tasks of life—like living and loving.

I would have missed the mama bird who tucked her nest in the corner of my porch.

I would have been in at least one fender bender (or worse) due my dangerous rushing and multitasking ways.

I would have given up on tangerines because they take too long to peel.

I would have missed a thousand conversations that just come when one sits still and waits for words to come.

But I didn’t miss any of them.

Thanks to her.

noticer 6Embracing my daughter’s Enjoy-the-Journey approach to life didn’t just alter my actions and my behavior, it changed my perspective, transformed my thought-processes, and loosened the tightly wound fiber of my inner being.

Although I am a work in progress, the change in me has been quite remarkable. But there is something even more remarkable about this story. And it became apparent to me when a blog reader asked for an update. She wrote:

“I see it’s been several years since you wrote, “The Day I Stopped Saying ‘Hurry Up’”. Did your daughter’s slow pace and ultra observant nature cause trouble in school? What is she like now? May I have an update? I have a Noticer and knowing how things turned out for your daughter would mean a great deal to me.”

As I began typing my response, unexpected tears fell on my keyboard. With clarity, I realized my transformation was secondary to an even bigger story—a story that could quite possibly bring solace and hope to those wondering if they too could let a loved one just be.

This is our story …

[Read more…]

A List Worth Printing, Posting, Remembering, & Living

DSC_1017“Your eyes, they shine so bright
I wanna save that light.”
-Imagine Dragons

When I began my Hands Free journey almost five years ago, I did it to free myself from the external distractions, internal pressures, and unrealistic societal standards that prevented me from truly living. But there was an unexpected result: As my distracted ways lessened, my loving ways increased—tenfold. For the first time in my life I saw a direct correlation between my undivided presence and my ability to love my people in ways that most nurtured them. When I was in their presence, I studied them. I listened to them. I watched their faces when I used certain words and tones. I noted what words brought sighs of relief … surges of confidence … and glows of acceptance. I vowed to say those words more. I also noted what words brought shame … disconnection … pain … and silence. I vowed to say those words less. Over time, I collected quite a powerful list of words that helped me love my people in ways that helped them thrive. Like sunlight and water to a plant, these words nourished the deepest parts of their human hearts and fostered growth in all areas of their lives. Hence, I called them Soul-Building Words.

Recently a reader of my blog wrote to me about her 19 year old daughter. She was facing great challenges in her schooling and the mother wanted to support her in ways that would lift and strengthen her. The mother asked, “Do you have any words I can say to my daughter?” That is when my mental Soul-Building List became a physical one. When I shared it on The Hands Free Revolution page, many people said they wanted to hang that list on their refrigerator, in their bedroom, in their child’s bedroom, in their classroom, in their office, and even on their foreheads. “Please make this list a printable!” I heard over and over. The word “printable” is definitely the opposite of Soul-Building to me (quite befuddling, actually), but I knew someone who would not cringe at the sight of that word. My multi-talented, soul-building friend Kristin Shaw of Two Cannoli graciously made us that beautiful printable for today’s post.

So here is my list of 20 Soul-Building phrases followed by the printable and two extraordinary resources for knowing and loving your people. My friends, thank you for helping me discover what my Soul-Building Words are. Whenever you say, “Never stop writing,” my heart beats stronger and my life’s purpose becomes a little more solidified.

DSC_0047

Soul-Building Words for the Ones You Love:

When they need to know how much you love them:  

* You make my day better.

* You make my life better.

* I love spending time with you.

* Seeing your face makes me happy.


When they need to know you are ALL there:
 

* I’m listening.

* My time is all yours.

* How can I be a better _____ (parent, friend, spouse) to you?

* Nothing is more important than being with you right now.

 

When they are stressed or frustrated:

* How can I help?

* Take your time. You don’t have to rush.

* I think you are doing a tremendous job.

* Keep going. You got this.

 

When they experience failure:

* Be kind to yourself. You are doing the best you can.

* Mistakes mean you are bravely learning and growing.

* It may not be the outcome you hoped for, but I noticed your effort and it was quite remarkable.

* I believe in you.

 

When they face a challenge:

* I am amazed at how much you are handling right now.

* I am learning a lot from you by watching you do something so challenging.

* This isn’t over—there’s still time to turn this around.

* You are not alone.

free printable:Image*************************************

Recommended resources: 

  • “Journey” is the word I often use to describe my life’s transformation from less distracted to more lovingly connected. Some might even call my experience an “inspired parenting journey”. Little did I know there was a step-by-step guide that has helped many people create the lasting change I’ve experienced on my Hands Free journey until I read Parenting Inspired: Finding Grace in the Chaos, Confidence in yourself, & Gentle Joy Along the Way. As I read the pages of Alice Hanscam’s enlightening book, I felt like I was reading the perfect companion guide to Hands Free Mama. Many of the concepts that Alice illustrates in the book (like focusing on the positive, the power of the pause, and the importance of self care) have been critical to the success of my journey. Alice goes a step further by providing highly relatable examples, sample dialogues, and practical exercises based on her experience as a PCI Parenting Coach. Her in-depth instruction allows readers to implement loving practices into everyday life and reflect on the positive changes that are occurring. After working through this excellent resource, I believe you’ll come away feeling less alone and more hopeful for the calm, connection, and confidence you yearn for in life. 
  • I know many of you follow my blog for encouragement and inspiration to be the best parent you can be. That is why I wanted to share this with you. The amazing 2015 Be the Best Parent You Can Be free online event has drawn together 20+ leading experts, including my colleagues Sandy Blackard, Dr. Laura Markham, Jane Nelsen , Patty Wipfler and more, to share their simple mindful parenting strategies for raising happy, independent and successful children in today’s fast-paced world. If you’d like to see daily video interviews with these experts, chat with them in a private Facebook group, and receive their free gifts, I encourage you to sign up by clicking here

The End of Your Insignificance

first and last 1“It’s what you’ve done with your time, how you’ve chosen to spend your days, and whom you’ve touched this year. That, to me, is the greatest measure of success.” ― R.J. Palacio, Wonder

First to get up.
Last to lie down.

First to believe.
Last to give up.

First to offer what you have.
Last to take what you deserve.

First to look on the bright side.
Last to throw in the towel.

First to defend.
Last to abandon.

First to worry.
Last to relax.

First to believe.
Last to doubt.

First to shield.
Last to endanger.

First to pick up the pieces.
Last to break down.

First to welcome.
Last to exclude.

Some people are first—first to arrive … first to speak up … first to finish.
Some people are last—last to leave … last to know … last to quit.
But there are very special individuals who
Knowingly
Voluntarily
Graciously
Fill the role of First and Last, with accomplishments that are quite remarkable.

Perhaps you know someone like this.
Perhaps you are someone like this.
But you’ve focused too much on the failings in between that you neglected to realize you are a First and Last Constant in someone’s life.

If so, please take the following words to heart. Accept them as your own. Let them soothe those painful days, months, or perhaps even years, of thinking that you are not enough.

Recognizing My Significance: A Personal Tribute

I am first, and I am last.
Suddenly all that messy stuff in between doesn’t matter so much.

I am the beginning, and I am the end.
I am the dawn, and I am the dusk.
I am the first responder, and I am the last survivor.

So today I shall stop focusing so much on the failings in between.
Because there is a human being who doesn’t have to wonder if he’ll wake up alone.
Because there is a human being who doesn’t have to shout to be heard.
Because there is a human being who doesn’t have to walk unaccompanied.
Because there is a human being who doesn’t have to comfort herself.
Because there is human being who doesn’t have to ask for love—it is just given. It is just given.
Because of me.
Because of me.
I am first, and I am last.
And today I realized how truly significant that is—how significant I am—in the life of another human being.

Today marks the end of my insignificance.

I am first, and I am last.

And that is cause for celebration.

celebration 3

***********************************************************

Friends of the Hands Free Revolution, thank you for being a community of Nurturers, Encouragers, Bad Dream Chasers, Second Chance Givers, Hand Holders, and Love Bestowers. You meet me here each week in an effort to live more and love more despite the distractions, pressures, and challenges of life. Sometimes we stumble; sometimes we fall flat on our faces–but we keep showing up. Today let us celebrate the mothering we do. Let us mother ourselves. Let us continue to mother each other. I am grateful for every single one of you and the way you encourage me. You are my writing fuel.

Turning a Moment of Shame Into an Anthem for Life

sidewalk 1“It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart,
But the welcome I receive at the restart.” -Mumford & Sons

* Dedicated to a beautiful gypsy warrior named Beth

I put my earphones in. I pushed ‘play’ on my new favorite band that recently opened for Mat Kearney. I set out to walk toward a little clarity, but it arrived much sooner than expected. Something that had been weighing on my heart all day suddenly became so clear. It was an answer to a question that had become my hourly prayer. With tear-filled eyes, I began typing a text message as fast as my little pointer finger could type.

A man walking his dog approached me from the other direction. I smiled warmly at them and said, “Good evening.” That’s when the man said, “Are you going to look at your phone the whole time you walk?”

All at once, shame washed over me. I was brought back to a painful time in my life when my phone was an extremity … when the ding of electronic notifications pulled me away from loving eyes and tender arms … when I took dangerous risks at stoplights and justified them with flimsy excuses. All at once, I felt like that distracted, overwhelmed woman who once came painfully close to losing everything that mattered most.

I almost kept walking. I almost lowered my face in shame. I almost berated myself. But I am not that person anymore.

And there was something that needed to be said, so I stopped walking.

[Read more…]

Making Your Loudest Voice Calmer & Your Truest Voice Stronger

voiceless 1“Feeling my way through the darkness
Guided by a beating heart
I can’t tell where the journey will end
But I know where to start.” – Avicii

On most Saturdays you can find our family exploring our new city. We moved here ten months ago, but it still feels new and excitingly uncharted. At a downtown museum on a recent Saturday, we watched a four-minute film that my younger daughter called the “moments of happiness” movie. At different points in the video, I noticed each of my daughters peering down the isle to look at me. I knew what they were looking for—they were looking for tears.

Within the first twenty seconds of the film, I felt my eyes well up. Watching ordinary people doing brave things … watching the joyful homecomings of service men and women … watching siblings work together for a common goal … watching families celebrate together and mourn together—these heart-stirring situations caused my tears to flow. I unabashedly let them run down my face.

“It doesn’t take much to make mom cry,” my older daughter said taking my hand as our family exited the theater. I felt my chest tighten wondering where this was going.

“Yeah,” my younger daughter agreed. “Whenever Mom sees someone else cry, she cries too.”

I was so relieved. This is who I am now: The woman who cries with others … the woman who cries with happiness.

It hasn’t always been that way.

There was a time when there were lots of tears—not a quiet cry of despair, but more of an out of control, high-pitched, tearful eruption. There was a two-year period of my life when I was a pressure cooker just waiting to blow. The troubling mantra that repeatedly ran through my mind was: “It’s just too much … it’s all just too much.” A great deal of the “too much” was self imposed—unachievable standards, relentless distractions, and an overabundance of commitments. But at the time, I didn’t realize the choices I was making were causing this constant feeling of overwhelm. I only knew that carrying the weight of too much caused me to scream and cry when I got upset—as if screaming and crying were the only way to be heard.

But that type of communication was always met with a look of shock, fear, and sorrow from the people I loved the most. In fact, when I was screaming and crying, they didn’t hear a word I said.

[Read more…]

The One Question That Can Also Be an Answer

how can i helpLast summer was a difficult period for me. We’d just moved to a new state and left behind friends who were like family. The deadline to submit the first draft of my second book was looming, and I found myself unable to write. During this time of uncertainty and upheaval, my sister Rebecca came to visit. I wanted to be the fun, adventurous host and show her our new city. I planned things for us to do, but when it came down to it, I simply could not hide my despair. One morning, when misplaced fishing nets from the Dollar Store nearly caused a breakdown, Rebecca gently touched my arm. “How can I help?”

My sister was not talking about the fishing nets.

I felt my eyes instantly well with tears, and then I let out a mammoth-sized exhale. Sweet, sweet relief. My sister saw my pain … she saw I was going through something … she wanted to ease my burden. All this—and I never had to say a word. She just knew.

Furthermore, there was something about that question that kept defensiveness, excuses, and the need to explain out of the conversation. How can I help? It was much less intrusive than, “What’s wrong?” It was much more supportive than, “What’s your problem?” With one single question, my sister acknowledged my struggle and offered to lighten my load. All this—and I never had to say a word. It was the kind of help I most needed in that moment.

Rebecca proceeded to throw out specific ways she could help. I did not take her up on the kind offers at that moment, but knowing I had options made me feel more hopeful about my current situation.

From that experience, my list of Soul-Building Words—words that lift … help … and heal—grew by one. Little did I know how that question—how can I help?—would become an answer for my child this spring. [Read more…]

A State Where You Can Thrive & Your People Can Breathe

detourWhen I was young, my family would take long car trips in the summertime. It was always a big deal when we’d cross state lines. Everyone in the car would look up from whatever they were doing to pass the time and celebrate our progress. Going from one territory to another was exciting, but there was nothing like crossing into my home state at the end of the trip. Knowing I’d be sleeping in my own bed made me feel giddy with delight. When my dad pulled the car into the garage, my foul mood suddenly lifted. The familiar smell of home filled my senses and made me forget how much my sister annoyed me the previous nine hours. I’d jump out of the car, eager to move my stiff ligaments and see my beloved orange cat.

Although I seldom take long car trips now, my Hands Free journey to live better and love more causes me to think about state lines every single day. These lines are not physical territories, but rather emotional boundary lines—and I’ve discovered they are critical for a peaceful, loving, joy-filled existence.

Let me explain …

With adult decisions, daily responsibilities, kid mishaps, constant pressures, and blatant distractions, it’s quite easy to cross over fragile state lines:

From a state of calm … to a state of impatience

From a state of caring … to a state of apathy

From a state of presence … to a state of distraction

From a state of hope … to a state of despair

From a state of joy … to a state of infuriation

You could have the best intentions in the world to be calm, present, and joyful and sometimes all it takes is just one incident to push you over the line. One sibling squabble … one added work assignment … one painful rejection … one burnt dinner … one dog-chewed retainer … or one call from the school and before you know it, you’ve crossed over into dangerous territory and find yourself in that place you never wanted to be (again).

I know. I remember.

[Read more…]