The World Needs Open Arms

the world needs 2

I carry little notebooks with me when I take walks because that is where my best writing ideas come to life. They usually start with just a few words. Sometimes those words become a poem. Sometimes that poem becomes a story. And every once in awhile, those words take on an entire life of their own. That’s exactly what happened here. What began with the words, “The world needs,” has taken me to places unimagined. I’d love to take you with me. Let’s start here:

The World Needs

The world needs more patience.
Let it begin on the floor of my home as my child struggles to tie her own shoes before school.

The world needs more kindness.
Let it begin at my kitchen counter as I bite my tongue over spilled cereal and offer a helping hand.

The world needs more hope.
Let it begin on a piece of crisp, white stationery as I write words of encouragement for a hurting soul.

The world needs more peace.
Let it begin in my heart as I decide to pick my battles and say, “I am sorry,” as often as I can.

The world needs more human connection.
Let it begin with my hands as I choose to hold on to my loved ones instead of my devices.

The world needs more compassion.
Let it begin with my feet as I walk in someone else’s shoes instead of doling out judgment and contempt.

The world needs more patience, kindness, hope, peace, human connection, and compassion. Yes, it does.

And the world is not too big, and these commodities are not too scarce.

It begins in our hearts, hands, words, and actions.

It begins with the people closest to us.

It begins with you and me.

It begins today. 

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As you can gather from the words above, I am a big believer in small, daily gestures of love. I believe such actions hold the power to transform our relationships, but also the world. So each day I try to make a difference by opening my arms to the ones closest to me. Most days, that is enough. Most days, that is more than enough.

But then sometimes I am called to do more.

Sometimes I am asked to open my arms to those outside my inner circle. I’ll be honest: my first reaction is resistance. I think about time, cost, and inconvenience and keep my arms tucked tightly around me.

But if I’ve learned anything on this Hands Free journey, it is this: when I feel most resistant to opening my arms is when I should open them the widest.

That is exactly what happened recently while sitting in church. My friend was telling the congregation about her endeavor to redecorate the dark and gloomy rooms of a local women’s shelter. Each of the 100 rooms housed two mothers and their children who were trying to rebuild their lives after a traumatic life experience. My friend said it was quite amazing what a little paint, some soft rugs, new towels, colorful bedding, and a bedside lamp could do to lift the women’s spirits and make them feel worthy.

As my friend invited people to adopt a room, I felt that pang of resistance. I began calculating time, cost, effort, and availability. That’s when my older daughter leaned over and whispered enthusiastically. “Let’s do it, Mom!”

I looked down and saw my arms folded tightly around my body. I knew what I must do. I opened my arms and pulled my child close. “Yes, Natalie,” I agreed. “Let’s do it.”

My daughter and I spent an afternoon shopping for items for the room makeover. I stuck to the practical things like a shower curtain and a trash can, but Natalie was drawn to the comforts—candy, bags of coffee, soft blankets, and coconut-scented shampoo. I watched as her arms filled with things that make a home a HOME.

On the day of the redecoration, we were joined by our daughters’ two best friends. I was amazed that there was no load too heavy … no dirt stain too stubborn … no bathroom bug too intimidating for these four kids. For six hours they cleaned, organized, and rearranged with vigor.

the world needs #handsfreemama

the world needs #handsfreemama

the world needs #handsfreemama

the world needs #handsfreemama

the world needs #handsfreemama

At one point, the children were folding baby clothes for the twins that lived in the room when a resident of the facility approached them. “You like helping people, don’t you? I can tell,” she said matter-of-factly.

I stood back and watched as I thought about the woman’s unusual compliment. Perhaps it was the children’s friendly smiles or the enthusiasm they put into folding onesies that identified them as “helpers.” But in the end, I think it was their wide, open arms that distinguished them as givers who make the world a better place.

the world needs #handsfreemamaI vowed to remember the powerful impact of outstretched arms despite my initial thoughts that almost discouraged me from helping. But in case I needed one more confirmation, I received an email message from a mother of one of Natalie’s classmates.

“Please tell Natalie thank you for me. I was tucking my child in bed and she was telling me about her day. She said they watched a movie in class and Natalie was the only one who let my daughter sit in her lap. She is our cuddly and nurturing child who feels safer when tucked in a lap, even at ten-years-old. She said that Natalie held her for the whole movie and that it was the best day because of that one thing.”

If I didn’t know it before, I know it now: the world needs more open arms.

The children
The mamas
The daddies
The babies
The aging
The dying
The lonely
The sick
The weak
And even the strong …

They all need more open arms.

And we have them. My friends, we have them. Sometimes that is all that we have.

But it is enough.

It is more than enough.

Let us begin wherever we are.

the world needs more open arms1

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As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the words “the world needs” have taken on a life of their own over the past few weeks. I feel compelled to share one last experience in case someone is looking for a way to open their arms:

Around the time my family was preparing to redecorate a room at the women’s center, a dear friend reached out to me. Emily Wierenga is a gifted author and journalist who writes about her life-changing experiences in Uganda on her blog. She told me how she was working to raise funds to build and outfit three rescue homes for orphaned babies in the Ugandan slums. I sat down with my daughters and we read about the project, the children, and watched the video here

Both of my daughters were amazed by the fact that these once unloved and malnourished children living among trash were now being given love, shelter, nourishment, education, and hope simply by coming to live in one of these rescue homes. They immediately wanted to help.

My detail-oriented older daughter began planning a lemonade stand to raise money for more rescue homes. My musically inclined younger daughter began working on a lullaby for the housemothers to sing to the babies. She was so involved in this project that she begged me to stay up until it was complete. She wrote the song, “Don’t Worry, Little One,” and created a melody to go with it. Take a listen: 

The girls each collected $5 and made a $10 donation here. Interestingly, the tears and angst we were feeling about our family’s upcoming move to a new state have subsided as we have focused this project. There’s something about making a home a home for another human being that brings peace to your heart. There is something about making a home a home for another human being that brings peace to the world.

Friends, in light of this post, World Help has lowered the suggested donation amount from $75 to $10 this week to make it easier for more adults and more children to open their arms and transform a child’s life. Smaller donations and lullabies are also welcomed and greatly appreciated. You can donate any amount here and send lullabies to: wierenga.emily@gmail.com.

I will update you on the impact of The Hands Free Revolution community on the Rescue Home project next week!  

Wishing you a blessed Easter, friends. Thank you for making the world a better place.

In Need of an Emergency Contact

emergency contact #handsfreemama

“Are you Rachel Stafford?” she asked me over the low roar of party conversation and festive music. When I nodded, the woman with a very familiar face said, “You are the emergency contact for half my preschool class.”

It wasn’t meant as a compliment, but as the words rolled off her tongue, I couldn’t help but smile. I felt the magnitude of its meaning in a way I hadn’t before.

Rachel Stafford, Emergency Contact

Although there are many esteemed titles in today’s society, I could not think of a higher honor at that moment. I’d filled out enough school registration forms to know the importance of those three blank lines. Who would pick up your children if you couldn’t? Who would you trust with life’s most precious gifts?

Knowing I was chosen to retrieve my friends’ pint-sized angels in times of trouble gave me an added confidence boost over the past few months. Whenever I failed miserably in other areas of my life, I reminded myself: I am an Emergency Contact. I may have more flaws and failures than I can count, but my friends know I would drop everything to retrieve their precious babies and love them as my own. That thought always gave me a lift.

But very recently the term Emergency Contact has come to mean even more.

You see, I now have in my possession two new school registration forms for each of my children. And for the first time in seven years, the blank emergency contact lines have taunted me. For the first time in seven years, I have no beloved names to write on those very important lines.

Due to my husband’s job, we are relocating to a new state when the school year ends. Luckily, I’ve had some time to process the thought of moving before telling my children because honestly, those emergency contact lines have been a great source of sadness. We are moving away from a beautiful collection of kind and loving people who are worthy of the honorable Emergency Contact title beside their names. Although my rational mind knows we will make new friends in our new community, trust is another thing. Trusting someone with your most precious gifts takes time.

A few weeks ago, it was time for the ‘For Sale’ sign to be placed in our yard. That morning our children were told of the news. Although a few tears slipped out of my eyes when the girls began to cry, I have come to feel truly excited about our new adventure and the wonderful new school they will be attending. With genuine happiness I told them about all the opportunities and blessings I foresee.

“But I won’t have any friends there. We don’t know anyone there,” my older daughter cried.

We have no emergency contacts, is what my heart heard her say. I swallowed hard. When we think of leaving it is not: can we take our favorite couch? It is not: how big is my new bedroom? It is not: does the neighborhood have a pool?

When we think of leaving, the faces of those we will desperately miss is what immediately comes to mind.

When it’s time to say goodbye, we are powerfully reminded that the most important things in life aren’t things.

And just like me, my children instantly felt the need for familiar faces—people who know us … people who love us … people we can call in times of trouble, even at one o’clock in the morning.

I got down on bended knee in front of my children with tear-streaked cheeks and shared my heart and my hopes. “I have cried many tears thinking about saying goodbye to our friends here too. But we will join a swim team. We will find a church. We will take walks every evening in our new neighborhood, and it won’t be long before we will make a friend or two,” I assured.

That weekend was rough for my children. Processing the thought of moving brought a roller coaster of emotions and lots of questions. At night, they had trouble sleeping.

“I can’t believe we’re moving,” my older daughter whispered tearfully when she came to my bed at midnight. “I don’t want to leave my friends, Mama.”

Although I was still half asleep, I managed to offer up a hopeful thought. “Remember, we’re moving to the same city that your best friend’s aunt lives. We have known Aunt Jane for years, and she adores you.”

My daughter thought about it for a minute and a tiny smile came to her lips. “Can we have Aunt Jane over for dinner when we get settled? Like on a Friday night could she just come and hang out with us?”

A Familiar face. Someone who knows us. Someone who loves us. Someone we can count on. Someone we can trust.

I could have kissed my child right then and there! My emergency contact lines weren’t empty after all! I didn’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before.

I had someone I could call in the middle of the night.

I had someone who would not be a total stranger if my children had to be picked up at school.

I had someone who knew us for many years.

I had someone I could trust with my most precious gifts.

I tucked my daughter back in bed and tiptoed downstairs. I pulled out my yellow folder that contained all our important relocation documents. The school registration forms were right on top.

I turned to the Emergency Contact page and wrote Jane’s name in big, bold letters on the top line and crawled into bed. I said a prayer of gratitude for the little things in life that definitely aren’t things, and they sure aren’t little. And then I slept soundly for the first time in months.

My friends, I am simply the messenger on this life-changing journey, and today I have this message to give:

If you are an Emergency Contact, thank you for being willing to show up no matter when … no matter where … no matter how inconvenient it is to be present in someone’s time of need. You are an Emergency Contact. Relish that honorable title and remind yourself of it when you fail in other areas of your life.

If you have an Emergency Contact, look at that name and take a moment to recognize his or her importance in your life.  Better yet, take a moment to express your gratitude for the important role he or she plays. Take a moment to relish the fact that you have someone who knows you, loves you, and is there for you.

If you are in limbo, perhaps in between an old place and a new place, my hope is that you unexpectedly realize that despite thinking you are alone, you find that you really aren’t alone.

And finally, no matter what place in life you are in—settled or unsettled, known or unknown—may you have the courage to reach out your hand and say hello to someone who looks scared and uncertain.

Who knows? You might just be reaching out to my family.

And if it is us, we will smile with relief and be grateful for your unfamiliar hand.

Because whether it’s blank registration forms or homesick hearts, the kindness of one person is enough to fill the emptiest of spaces.

emergency contact hands free mama

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Emergency contacts come in many forms. I’d love to hear where you find comfort in times of uncertainty, sadness, and change. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and insights in the comment section below. The Hands Free Revolution community provides a beautiful resource for those who come here to find hope and feel less alone in their daily struggles and triumphs.

Recommended Resource:

Over the years, I have drawn great strength, comfort, and inspiration to love myself “as is” from Glennon Doyle Melton, founder of Momastery.com. She is my virtual Emergency Contact, my favorite truth-teller and hope-spreader of all time. When I read her words, I am reminded that I am not alone. Her book “Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life” comes out in paperback today. It is one of the most hopeful, healing, and uplifting books I have ever read.

“Brutiful, I call it. Life’s brutal and beautiful are woven together so tightly that they can’t be separated. Reject the brutal, reject the beauty. So now I embrace both, and I live well and hard and real.”
–Glennon Doyle Melton

This book is a treasure for anyone yearning to live more and love more each day. Check it out here

Thank you for being a part of The Hands Free Revolution. It’s good to be back after a two-week blogging break. I gained some valuable time connecting to what matters most in my life and look forward to sharing my insights with you in the days ahead. Thanks to all who checked in on me to make sure I was okay. It means more than you know. 

*For those who are visiting this blog for the first time, I recently wrote a book that describes all the steps I took to let go of daily distraction, perfection, and pressure to “do it all.” Check out HANDS FREE MAMA, a New York Times Bestseller here.

Thank you, Not-So-Pleasant Moment in Life

thank you hands free mama

I was riding in a cab in Austin, Texas when she said her tummy hurt.

I was standing in a hotel lobby in San Francisco when she complained of a sprained ankle.

I was sitting on the runway in Detroit when she described the pain in her left ear.

And while on the last leg of my book tour in Toronto, she called to say, “My throat hurts. I think I have strep,” in the most pathetic voice I’d ever heard.

Normally, such dismal medical updates from my seven-year-old would have sounded like fingernails on a chalkboard, but while on the road, I came to relish those calls.

That little whiny voice on the other end of the line brought comfort to this lonely mama’s soul. That little voice was HOME—safety, security, and familiarity. It surprised me that I was relishing these phone calls because they surely didn’t represent the best parts of home. But as I offered assurances to my child hundreds of miles away, I realized something significant about the whiny, messy, unpredictable moments. They are what make home a home and a life a life. They are what make up my life … my one precious life.

Before my book tour began, I professed my fear of television interviews, large metropolitan areas, and speaking in front of big groups of people. Little did I know the angst I would experience while being away from home. Although I managed to get comfortable in front of the camera and learned to navigate my way through large airports and cities, I never got accustomed to being away from home. But as most of you know, there is something quite profound that happens when you miss something so badly it hurts.

You gain appreciation.

You gain perspective.

You grasp what really matters.

Just when I thought my Hands Free journey could not open my eyes any wider to what really mattered in life, I began seeing what I could not see before: Glimmers of Goodness in the mundane, the mess, and the mayhem … Glimmers of Goodness in the exaggeratedly dramatic sprained ankles and the never-ending doses of Amoxicillin.

And a tragedy didn’t have to strike in order for me to see all the goodness.

And for that, I am eternally grateful.

So now I must share it. This newfound perspective I gained while on the road may help someone else discover life’s daily blessings among the distractions and challenges of life. I call this approach “Glimmers of Goodness.” Because having a full and complete day of goodness is hard, maybe even impossible, with life’s daily stresses of children, bills, schedules, deadlines, responsibilities, and pressures. But finding Glimmers of Goodness within a day is possible—even when you are irritated, annoyed, or frustrated. In fact, it is in times of overwhelm that I can find these bright spots most easily. It may sound odd, but I’ve been taking each not-so-pleasant experience or feeling and thanking it. And from that place of gratitude, I find a Glimmer of Goodness. Take a look …

Glimmers of Goodness

Thank you, hurried morning. It is in the hunt for shoes, library books, and backpacks that I appreciate the slow Saturday. I shall pay attention and appreciate the Slow Saturday.

Thank you, perpetually dirty house. It is in finding rumpled sheets, toothpaste blobs, and abandoned socks that I appreciate the evidence of life being lived.  I shall pay attention and appreciate Life Being Lived.

Thank you, aging face. It is in finding another gray hair and another laugh line that I appreciate the gift of another day. I shall pay attention and appreciate the Gift Another Day.

Thank you, stop-and-smell-the-roses child. It is when I take life at your pace that I notice the unnoticable. I shall pay attention and appreciate Noticing the Unnoticable.

Thank you, free-spirited child. It is in experiencing everything a little faster, a little louder, and a little riskier that I appreciate the courage it takes to be bold. I shall pay attention and appreciate Being Bold.

Thank you, sensitive soul. It is in experiencing everything a little deeper and a little more quietly that I see the beauty of a tender heart. I shall pay attention and appreciate the Tender Heart.

Thank you, pang of guilt. It is in wishing that I did things differently that I appreciate the opportunity of Second Chances. I shall pay attention and appreciate Second Chances.

Thank you, disappointment. It is in experiencing let down that I appreciate the fact that I had the courage to try. I shall pay attention and appreciate the Courage to Try.

Thank you, daily challenge. It is in looking straight into the face of sorrow, struggle, fear, frustration, heartache, and worry that I appreciate the fact I keep showing up. I shall pay attention and appreciate the fact that I Keep Showing Up.

And I will keep showing up.

Because there are Glimmers of Goodness in each day if I pay attention. Even the bad moments have some good in them when I stand back and view them from a distance.

Because with a little perspective,

And a little appreciation,

I can see that even the not-so-pleasant moments make a home a home … and a life a life.

My life.

My one precious life.

And a tragedy didn’t have to strike for me to see it.

Thank you, whiny voice on the other end of the line. It is in hearing every ache and pain in your precious body that I appreciate We Are Alive. I shall pay attention and appreciate the fact that We Are Alive.

And because of that incredibly momentous fact, I shall use today to grasp as many Glimmers of Goodness as I can find.

thank you handsfree mama 3

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Friends, tell me how you find Glimmers of Goodness in your day. Tell me what life experiences provided you with life-changing perspective. Your stories are like gold to me and to those who read the comment section of this incredible community. When we see each other’s scars, we love each other more. That’s what I believe. There is so much to be gained by sharing our hearts. Thank you for being here.

If you’ve ever wanted to ask me question about living Hands Free or about writing a book, here is your chance! On Wednesday, March 19th at 1pm ET, I am participating in a Live Author Chat sponsored by FaithGateway. You can submit your questions via Twitter and I will answer them LIVE on the Google Hangout in real-time. (Only the author and host are on camera. You just watch and listen – you don’t need a webcam for these chats.) Click here to register and learn more. 

Friends, the book tour for HANDS FREE MAMA enabled me to meet so many incredible people, answer thought-provoking questions, and experience many Hands Free revelations. With the incredible national and international response to my new book, I find I am in need of rest, reflection, and rejuvenation. So in honor of my children’s spring break beginning next week, I will be taking a two-week break from blogging to spend time with my family and document the incredible experiences I had while on my book tour. You can look forward to a new blog post the week of April 7th. Thank you for supporting my commitment to authentically LIVE the Hands Free life that I write about!

 *For beautiful reminders to live Hands Free, be sure and check out the Hands Free Shop to see the gorgeous bracelets & hand-lettered prints that would make unique & meaningful gifts for Easter and Mother’s Day this spring. To go to the shop, click here. I am truly grateful to all who are giving my book as birthday gifts and gifts to new parents. Thank you for spreading the Hands Free message of hope far and wide! 

 

If You Really, Really Knew Me

"I don't care where you've been. I'm just glad you're here now." -Rachel Macy Stafford

“I don’t care where you’ve been. I’m just glad you’re here now.” -Rachel Macy Stafford

I recently had the honor of speaking on a parenting panel with two experts in the field of living with intention and gratitude. Mike Robbins was the panel mediator who posed thoughtful questions to Michelle Gale and myself.

As we took our seats in the chairs positioned at the front of the room, I realized this would be the first time I was seated while speaking to an audience. My eyes were immediately drawn to the people in the front row. As I responded to Mike’s questions, I soon realized I was talking directly to them. I forgot I was holding a microphone. I forgot I was talking to a large group of people. I forgot all the things I had prepared to say and spoke from my heart, just like I do when I write.

One man in a red sweater nodded encouragingly, just like a friend would sitting across from me at a coffee shop. One man clapped enthusiastically after one of my responses. One woman, whose beautiful, dark hair swooped over her left cheek, could not stop her tears. I was speaking to those people, literally and figuratively. I could feel it, and it made me want to share more of my heart with them.

That’s when Mike invited the audience to participate in a group exercise. He instructed them to answer the following sentence with a partner:

If you really knew me, you would know …

After each person took a turn, he or she would go a little deeper:

If you really, really knew me, you would know …

The partners were instructed to continue exchanging their truths until time was up.

Although Mike checked with Michelle and me ahead of time, I felt a pang of discomfort when I heard Mike say that the panelists would go first, illustrating how the exercise would work.

Part of me hoped my microphone would malfunction or I would suddenly lose my voice. Part of me wanted to think of something light and easy that would make people laugh. Part of me wanted get up and run away.

But instead I took a deep breath and looked at my new friends seated in the front row. Their loving gazes indicated I would be safe, supported, and encouraged, no matter what I said.

And what came out of my mouth was unexpected, but it was truth. I said:

[Read more...]

The Ten Minutes that Changed My Distracted Life

“By offering to give love, you are offering yourself a chance to be loved.”  –Rachel Macy Stafford

“By offering to GIVE love, you are offering yourself a chance to BE loved.”
–Rachel Macy Stafford

Something happened over the holidays that I wasn’t planning to share, but I’ve decided it must not be kept to myself. You see, lately I am getting a lot of messages from readers that say, “I am who you once were, but I don’t know if there is hope for me; I don’t know if I can change; I think it’s too late for me.”

Three and a half years ago, I said those same words to myself. In fact, when I began taking steps to let go of my distracted, perfectionistic, hurried ways I didn’t tell anyone for three months. Why? Because I thought change was not possible for me. I once believed I was too far gone to ever come back. But this past December 24th, I was powerfully reminded what I once believed was so wrong. Here is my story. May it reach someone who longs to believe change is possible. Believing is the first step.

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We were supposed to leave the house in nineteen minutes. In my hand, I held my child’s holiday dress and her pretty tights.

“Honey, it’s time to wake up and get dressed for the Christmas Eve service,” I said gently to my seven-year-old daughter who was barely visible under a mound of blankets.

“I’m too tired,” she moaned without opening her eyes.

Two hours earlier I’d suggested she take a nap since we’d be up late, but now I was regretting it. My lethargic child looked as if she could sleep for several more hours.

“Come on, I’ll help you get dressed,” I offered.

She didn’t move a muscle.

This was not like her, but yet I was starting to feel agitated. “You can have two more minutes to rest, then it will be time to get up,” I firmly stated using a tactic that worked well with my former special education students.

After tidying up a few things around her room and glancing at my unusually put-together appearance in her mirror, I told my daughter it was time to get up now.

“I don’t feel good,” she cried.

I expelled a long, hot breath before speaking. “Mommy is trying to be patient with you, but I am starting to feel impatient,” I said honestly. “I’ll take you to the bathroom and then I bet you’ll feel better.”

At the pace of an elderly person with bad arthritis, she gingerly crawled out of bed and plopped down on the toilet.

“I will put on your tights right here,” I said knowing we needed to leave the house very shortly if we were going to get seats in the service.

“I don’t feel good,” she repeated once again—but this time the word “good” turned into one long wail. Her face crumpled in pain.

Three and a half years ago, this is when I would have lost it.  This is when I would have gruffly shoved her feet into those tights and barked that we were going to be late. This is when thoughts of my own agenda, my own appearance, my own timetable, and my own demands would have overruled all else. This is when things would have gotten ugly.

But things are different now.

[Read more...]

A Reason for the Listening Face

listening face #hands free mama

In the past week, the same question arose during a magazine interview and also while serving on a mindful parenting panel. This leads me to believe that the topic is important; it’s relevant; and it’s on our minds. While I feel the question and my response are both worthy of sharing, it goes much further than that. This particular question has led me to reflect on how I want to live out this one precious life. It’s brought me one step closer to grasping what really matters. This is my story … 

Why is it important to remember to be hands free in front of our children?” I was asked twice in one week.

And this was my response:

Our children are learning how to navigate life in a digital world by watching us. Through mindful technology use, children can learn there is a time and place for our devices. On the flip side, if we constantly have a device in our hand or our face in a screen, they will learn that the device takes priority over human beings and real life experiences. Their tech use is likely to resemble our tech use – so what we do with our device at the dinner table, while driving, or while waiting at a restaurant is likely what they will do.

One of my most effective strategies for maintaining healthy boundaries between real life and technology is to envision what will make my children feel fulfilled in the future. And it comes down to this:

If I want my children to be awed by sunsets in the future, I must take time to be awed by sights in nature now.

If I want my children to appreciate the joy of a screen-free Saturday afternoon in the future, I must take time to show them the joys of screen-free Saturday now.

If I want my children to look directly into the eyes of those who speak to them when they are adults, I must look into their eyes and listen to their words now.

It is my ultimate hope that my children’s childhood memories include me participating in their lives with open hands and attentive eyes. This means doing what I can now to be a hands free parent as they grow.

—————

After I submitted my response to the magazine editor and relayed this perspective to a room full of conference attendees, I found myself going back to the “ultimate hope” line again and again:

It is my ultimate hope that my children’s childhood memories include me participating in their lives with open hands and attentive eyes.

Keeping in mind how I want to be remembered by my loved ones when I am gone motivates me far more than any other tactic I use to grasp what really matters each day.

But let’s be real. It’s hard to be present, patient, and purposeful in this fast-paced, achievement-oriented, digitally-saturated world we live in. We often feel pressured to be available in the most remote places, during the most sacred times. We often have a multitude of requests coming at us with flashing lights and intrusive dings. We live in a world that wants to know how much we accomplished … a world where daily achievements are publically displayed … a world that values instantaneous electronic responses over leisurely face-to-face connection.

It’s hard to LET GO and LIVE when the world is constantly tapping us on the shoulder reminding us there is so much to be done.

[Read more...]

When You Get it Right … and When You Don’t

what's right 2 handsfree mama

“I must have done something right,” the father of a nineteen-year-old young lady was telling me after having fixed my troublesome garage door.

Although his daughter had drifted a bit during her early teen years, she was now coming over to her parents’ house on the weekends and was genuinely enjoying spending time with her parents again.

The repairman’s eyes lit up when he talked about the renewed relationship with his daughter. He seemed relieved about how things had turned out.

“I must have done something right,” he had said a few minutes earlier.

His oldest daughter is nineteen. My oldest daughter is ten. I don’t want to wait nine years to know whether or not I’ve done something right. Because now is when I need to hear it.

Now—when I am in smack dab in the middle of raising her.

Now—when I feel the pressure to examine every choice I make, wondering how these choices will affect her now and in the future.

Now—when I want to trust my gut and live by heart rather than simply go along with mainstream opinion or “expert” advice.

Now—when I need little glimmers of hope to cling to each day.

So I decided not to wait.

Each day for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been looking for a little rightness—a little what-is-right-in-my-world.

Notice I say “a little.” Because what I am talking about is practically unnoticeable. It’s hardly note-worthy. And it’s definitely not anything worthy of public sharing—at least not according to societal standards. But that’s why it’s working for me. That’s why it’s encouraging to me. Because looking for what is right in my world – in my day – in my hour – is far more encouraging than looking for what is “right” in my world according to social media, societal standards, or popular opinion.

I invite you to take a look. Maybe this list will inspire you to see what is right in your world today.

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Choosing What Matters When Life Overwhelms

choosing what matters #handsfreemama

“Name twenty things you love about me,” my younger daughter requested just as I was shutting the door to her bedroom.

Because I immediately thought about the dirty dishes in the sink, the work I had yet to do before I could go to bed, and the ache in my back, I almost said, “Not tonight.”

But I didn’t.

Instead I slowly made my way back to her bed and rattled off things like, “I love your smile … I love the way you sing … I love how you help your friends … I love the way you make me laugh … I love the way you take your time … I love your strong hugs …”

I made it to twenty quite quickly, and I watched the smile on her face get a little bigger with each one.

“Thank you, Mama. I love how you love me,” she offered back as she rolled over preparing to sleep.

It took less than one minute, this little request of hers—but there is a good chance she will remember this list, this very important list.

I don’t always get it right. I don’t.

But over the past three and a half years on this Hands Free journey, my eyes have been opened. I can now see clearly that my days are made up of a million little choices—choices to grasp what really matters or let them slip through my multi-tasking little fingers.

That night I got it right.

I chose the girl who still stands on her tiptoes to reach the sink.

I chose the girl who still likes me to read her bedtime stories and hold her hand in the parking lot.

I chose the girl who sings made-up while offering me dandelion bouquets.

I chose the girl that has wiggly teeth and a contagious laugh.

With the kitchen in disarray and deadlines looming, I chose my child. Because I still can. Today my child stands before me wanting, needing, and hoping to be chosen. Tomorrow might be different.

Choice

Whether I grasped what really mattered or let it slip through my fingers came down to one choice—a choice took less than sixty seconds, but yet the memory may very well last a lifetime.  

This powerful fact has been giving me a lot of hope lately.

Because honestly, things have been really different around here.

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Hands Free Kids: Less Device, More Real Life

hands free kids #Handsfreemama

I want my children to spend less time on digital devices.

I want them to see beyond the electronic screen.

I want them know what life feels like in their hands, not through a keyboard.

I want all these things for my children living in a digital age, but there is more …

I want these things to occur not because I took away the device … not because I forced them to go outside … and not because I put restrictions on tech use.

I want my children to seek real life moments and real life connections because they want it for themselves, not because I said so.

Not long ago, I would have thought this notion was ridiculous, unrealistic, and downright impossible. Setting boundaries and physically removing the devices were the only way to control my children’s tech use at one point in time. And although these measures are still needed from time to time, I am seeing hope for a future Hands Free generation.

But I had to let go.

Yes, me. I had to let go.

This Hands Free journey I am on continues to challenge me and stretch me in ways that are not always comfortable or convenient. But further letting go has resulted in a hope for the future that I couldn’t fathom before.

The best way to explain how my letting go has allowed for my children’s letting go is through images and words. What you are about to see may make you feel slightly uncomfortable. Please know that I am right there with you. But as always on this Hands Free journey, it is necessary to look beyond the mess and mayhem to see what really matters.

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A New Perspective on Past Mistakes

new view on past mistakes #handsfreemama

The farther I get from the distracted, perfectionistic, hurried version of myself, the more I can admit difficult truths … the more I can heal … and the more I can truly live.

Lately, I find myself reflecting back on the first year of my journey—the year I faced my external distractions head on. It was the year I learned to let go of my phone, slow down, breathe deeply and hug fiercely. I had a wonderful teacher—my second-born child, Avery … my lover of life … my apple seed planter who would literally lie down in the grass and wait for a tree to grow. Avery showed me how foolish it was to get upset over life’s little mishaps. Avery steered me toward joy, as noted in the acknowledgement section of my new book:

“Avery, it is you who put the joy on the pages of this book.”

And in my life.

But here I am now, three and a half years into my journey and I am going below the surface; I am digging into my most painful internal distractions—the feelings of guilt, regret, and inadequacy that prevent me from living, laughing, and loving more than any phone ever did.

And now my inspiration is coming from my older daughter, Natalie.

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