How to Change Someone’s Story

change someone's story 1

This summer my family moved to a new state. Over the past couple months, I’ve repeatedly heard my younger daughter say, “I still don’t feel like this is home. It feels like we’re on a trip, and we need to get back.”

Sometimes she says it through tears. Other times she says it just matter-of-factly. And sometimes she even laughs about it. This fluctuation of emotions pretty much sums up the ups and downs that go along with moving.

But I must admit something. My daughter’s recurring comment, whether said through laughter or tears, has worried me. You see, this particular child is my Firefly with glasses that sit on the tip of her nose. She has prominent freckles and unruly hair that refuses to behave in a smooth and orderly fashion. This child is a Noticer with a keen awareness of other people’s struggles and fears, especially her own. On more than one occasion she’s maturely expressed that she is “different” from the rest. This child is a friend to all but not really attached to one. She marches to her own beat, makes up her own lyrics, sings like no one is listening. What happens to someone like this when thrown into a new environment with people who know nothing of her inner gifts? Back in our former community, she was loved and celebrated “as is”. We are now in a much bigger city where life is fast and unfamiliar. Would her light brighten or dim here? I’ve wondered many times.

Well, I was just at the height of my worry when something happened. I guess you could call it a game changer. In this case, I’m calling it a story changer. I share this experience as a means of grasping what matters in a fast-paced, overly distracted, pressure-cooker world. Whether we are lost or we are found, just a few moments with open hands and attentive eyes can turn things around.

This is our story …

It was Meet-the-Teacher day at my children’s new school. Coming from a school where every person we passed in the hall was either a friend from our neighborhood or church, the difference was quite noticeable. Walking amongst 900 people and not knowing a single one was intimidating even for me. My daughters and I purchased their school spirit t-shirts, put money in the lunch accounts, and then visited both classrooms. We had just left the second grade classroom where we’d met my younger daughter’s teacher. By the look on my child’s face, the meeting had gone well. She was smiling that squinty-eye smile where the corners of her mouth merge with the corners of her eyes. This full-on expression of joy was kind of stuck on her face. I reveled in my daughter’s smile as we made our way through the crowded halls.

So there we were, descending the steps along with 900 other families that had come to meet their teacher. About halfway down, there was a woman coming right for us. No matter how many people were in her way, she was determined to get to us. It was as if she knew us. It was as if she must reach us.

Finally this tall, slender woman with a welcoming smile stood directly in front of us. My children and I came to a halt. That’s when this lovely woman leaned down and gently cupped my younger daughter’s face in her hands. In a deep, warm voice that held a hint of southern charm she said, “You are so cute. You are so, so cute. I just can’t stand it! Who are you?” she asked excitedly.

My child’s eyes shifted over to me without removing her face from the woman’s hands. She began giggling like this was the funniest and most wonderful thing that could possibly happen. “I’m Avery,” she responded between giggles.

“Well, you are beautiful, Avery. I just love your freckles. I am so glad you are here. I am the P.E. teacher.”

How this woman knew to pick Avery out of the crowd, I will never know. How she knew to take both my daughters under her wing and introduce them to the principal and associate principal, I will never know. As I fought back tears of relief and gratitude, I did know one thing: what was happening in that moment was incredibly significant. I just didn’t yet know how significant.

Avery went home and reenacted the whole scene for her visiting grandparents. When her daddy came home, she acted it out again, never leaving out the face—the face in the hands was the most important part. Avery called one of her friends back home. “You will never guess what happened to me today,” she said clutching the phone with a wide smile.

You know when someone has a story? Like the day she met her spouse? Or the day he found a winning lottery ticket in a puddle next to his car? Or the day she quit her dead-end job and headed to Nashville to follow her dreams?

As I heard Avery telling everyone she possibly could about the hallway experience, I thought: This is her story. In one moment, her homesickness eased and her new life looked brighter. I could envision her telling this story for years to come, maybe even to her future spouse or her own daughter when she is scared and uncertain.

Don’t we all want our face to be held in someone’s hands?
Don’t we all want to be told how beautiful we are?
Don’t we all want to know we matter, that we are not invisible?
Don’t we all want a story to tell—that moment when our life started looking a little brighter?

someone's story 3

Those questions swirled around in my head for days, though I wasn’t quite sure why. When I found myself in despair at a local emergency vet, I thought of those questions again. Banjo, our very special cat, had gotten outside and had an allergic reaction to something in the woods behind our home. As I sat wringing my hands in the waiting room, a family walked in with their feeble dog. He was so old that his fur had actually grayed. He had saggy, red-rimmed eyes and a large lump protruded from his hip. The dog was lovingly worn down to the threads just like a childhood teddy bear.

I heard bits of the owner’s conversation with the receptionist. “Old … suffering … time to say goodbye.” The mother cried holding her small child against her hip. The father couldn’t even speak. He just patted the dog’s head in a calm, rhythmic motion. As I watched a family in turmoil, tears silently dripped down my cheeks.

The receptionist told them that euthanasia specialist would be with them shortly and to take a seat. The dog did not budge so the father picked him up gently. They sat down at the end of the bench near me. After sitting in silence for a few minutes, I trusted my voice. The father had walked away for a moment; the woman and her small child sat alone.

“I’m sorry,” I said quietly.

The woman’s sad eyes perked up. I saw a long, slow breath release from her chest. She smiled weakly.

“I can see that is a very special dog,” I added.

The woman turned slightly toward me and proceeded to tell me how they rescued him when he was a pup. For the first few weeks, he could only sleep if his head was pressed against hers. Because he had a bad case of fleas, she was paranoid there was a flea in her ear for the longest time. She laughed out loud. It was so nice to hear her laugh. She told me how he protected them. He was a good dog—the best kind of dog. Thank you for asking, she had said, her voice cracking just once.

I couldn’t change her story, but I could make the story a little better by letting her know I could see her pain—that she was not invisible. I vowed to keep remembering to look for small ways to impact someone’s story in a positive way the way the P.E. teacher did for my child.

Avery continues to have her up days and her down days. Her big sister made her a schedule to post in her room that highlights her P.E. days. Avery pops right up on those days. “I get to see the nice lady with the big smile today. You know, the lady who held my face,” she adds like I need to be reminded. I won’t ever need to be reminded, but that’s a story I will never tire of hearing.

I have no doubt the hallway experience altered the way Avery felt about this new territory—about her new life. To some that may seem like an exaggeration, but I am certain that it’s not. In fact, for the skeptics, I suggest this:

Take someone’s face in your hands. Look them straight in the eye. Say, “You are beautiful. Tell me about you.” Then stop and listen.

Talk about empowering. Talk about goose-bump inducing. Talk about uplifting, life-changing, and hope-building. Talk about grasping what really matters in a world of distraction, pressure, rush, and despair.

It doesn’t take much to change someone’s story. In fact, I’ve discovered six seconds will do. I wrote the following poem while waiting for Banjo to emerge from the vet. I thought of many six-second actions that can turn the day around and possibly change someone’s story. When I posted the poem to The Hands Free Revolution page, it was deemed “The 6 Second Challenge” and shared by nearly 25,000 people. “I’m in for The Six Second Challenge! How about you?” people wrote again and again. I was fueled with such hope, and I wanted to share this hope with you.

So in honor of those who are lost … those who are hurting … those who are looking for one small sign that they are not invisible, I offer this challenge. Today let’s see what we can do with 6 seconds to change someone’s story or at least make it a little brighter.

The 6 Second Challenge

In 6 seconds you can kiss someone like you mean it.
In 6 seconds you can hold open a door.
In 6 seconds you can wait for a little straggler to catch up. “I’ll wait for you,” you can even say.

In 6 seconds you can take a deep breath.
In 6 seconds you can let it go. “It’s not worth it,” you can say.
In 6 seconds you can tuck a note in a lunch box or in a pocket. It takes 2 seconds to make a heart.

In 6 seconds you can say you’re sorry.
In 6 seconds you can cut yourself some slack.
In 6 seconds you can throw away that picture, that pair of pants, that inner bully that keeps you from loving this day, this you.

In 6 seconds you can feel the sunshine.
In 6 seconds you decide it’s time to stop looking back.
In 6 seconds you can whisper, “It’s gonna be okay,” to yourself or someone who’s scared.

I used to sound like a broken record. “I don’t have time,” I would always say. But then I realized what could happen in a mere 6 seconds.

It’s enough to make a bad day good …
It’s enough to bring life back to your weary bones …
It’s enough to change someone’s story …
It’s enough to remember what really matters in the midst of so much that doesn’t.

© Rachel Macy Stafford 2014

change someone's story

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

Do you have a story? Have you ever changed someone’s story in a positive way? Please share. Every week when The Hands Free Revolution community members share their struggles and triumphs someone out there feels less alone. I feel so uplifted each week as I read your thoughts and encouragements.

Also, thank you for the overwhelming response to The Presence Pledge on last week’s post. A beautiful print is being created and will be available in the Hands Free Shop along with the other Hands Free prints sometime next week! I appreciate your unending support!

Update: Banjo has fully recovered and continues to supervise my writing progress on book #2.

Update: Banjo has fully recovered and continues to supervise my writing progress on book #2.

A Relationship Worth Protecting

relationship HFM“Can you see your love for me shining through? Cuz what you see in me, I can see in you. And soon enough, you and me we’ll be out of time. And kindness will be all we can leave behind.”

- Nimo Patel

My younger daughter rushed upstairs, her face wet with tears. She said she was having trouble putting together a Lego structure and couldn’t figure out what to do. When she asked her big sister for help, she cut her down—her words sharp and pointed and straight into the heart.

Yes, it had been a long summer. When you move to a new state, your sibling becomes your full-time playmate. My children had been in the company of one another for two solid months, no reprieves. But I’ve noticed that as my older daughter becomes more tween and less child, her patience is thinner … her sass stronger … her tone edgier. And there’s something about her little sister’s laid-back, leisurely nature that pushes her buttons. But something needed to be said before irreparable damage was done.

[Read more...]

Life on Repeat

life on repeat HFH 1

“But if you close your eyes, does it almost feel like nothing changed at all? And if you close your eyes, does it almost feel like you’ve been here before? How am I gonna be an optimist about this?” -Bastille 

I don’t think it was meant as a criticism, but the words stung a little.

“Usually I have to really dig to find anything new in your messages, but this time I didn’t,” the commenter wrote about a short piece I published on The Hands Free Revolution page.

I write about grasping what really matters in a world of a distraction. I write about seeing the glimmers of goodness amidst the mayhem, mess, and mistakes of everyday life. I have written over 200 blog posts, one book, and I am working on my second book. Sometimes when I write, I find myself asking, “Have I written that somewhere before?” And the answer is yes, in some form or fashion, I probably have. Writing is my instrument for focusing on what really matters. And because the distractions of life never go away, I require daily reminders repeated over and over. To some folks, it probably does begin to feel like a broken record.

But here’s the thing. Every once in awhile, as I am writing about what I write about, something unexpected comes out. Painful personal reflections like the hurry up post, the yelling post, and the bully post that cause tears to come to my eyes. Stories like these cause my hands to shake when I push the ‘publish’ button. That’s when I know someone is out there waiting to read these words. Such moments are my fuel. They say, “Keep writing, Rachel. Even though it’s tedious and repetitive, you just never know when your words are going to intersect with someone who needs them.”

But I am human which means in between those encouraging moments are times of doubt and uncertainty. That’s when I begin to question myself. I think about the criticisms and wonder if I’ve said all there is to say about letting go of distraction to grasp what really matters. I wonder if I’ve run dry. I wonder if my writing gig is up.

But recently, as I was thinking about this painful possibility for myself, I thought of you. I thought to myself, maybe there is something here for all of us. Maybe it will even make one person cry with me today.

[Read more...]

Finding Your Footing in New Beginnings

grave #handsfreemama

“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow. ” –Lin Yutang

One of the first things I did when I moved to my new state this summer was look for a quiet place to walk. You may recall that I had a hilly, serene area near my last home where I walked daily for the six years that I lived there. Many powerful epiphanies occurred to me on that stretch of tarmac where cars seldom passed. I had a feeling that finding a place where my legs could grow tired as my spirit came alive might be challenging here in my new, much bigger city. My suspicions were right.

On my first outing, I quickly realized it would be necessary for me to leave my neighborhood if I wanted a substantial walk. Upon exiting my subdivision I was greeted by a heavily traveled roadway that was intimidating, to say the least. There would be no daydreaming here, no getting lost in my own thoughts. This bustling thoroughfare screamed, “Pay attention or you might get hurt!”

I took a deep breath and forged ahead, hugging the outer edge of the sidewalk farthest from the busy road. With every Nissan and Chevrolet that barreled past, my hair blew back from my face and hot air hugged my legs. I kept my head down and walked briskly, pausing briefly to notice the historic cemetery on my right. I’m pretty sure I would have felt sad (or a little creeped out) if I hadn’t been so focused on finding a peaceful place to continue my walk.

As soon as I got past the cemetery, I saw what I was looking for: an established neighborhood canopied by lush trees and not a moving vehicle in sight. I immediately turned right and walked the shady maze of side streets and cul-de-sacs for an hour. When it was time to return home, I resisted the urge to walk past the cemetery at a quickened pace. Instead I noticed the names and dates of those who lived over a century ago.

[Read more...]

Moving On Better Than I Was Before

hill climb

There is a moving van parked in front of my house today. This is the house where I let life slip right through my multi-tasking fingers, but it is also the house where I grasped what mattered with two free hands and one committed heart.

Although my husband and I have moved four times since we were married, this fifth move feels like the hardest. As I drive the kids home from swim team practice, the mailboxes of my neighbors make me sad. As I walk the halls of my children’s school, the artwork of children I’ve watched grow brings tears to my eyes. Even the swing at the park remembers all the times I pushed small shoulders beneath flying hair and wiggly feet. Unlike the other moves, this one feels like a tragic loss.

Why? I’ve wondered over and over. What it is about this move that makes it more painful than the rest? As I’ve climbed the hill where I had my Hands Free breakdown-breakthrough, I’ve had some time to think about this. You see, I walk that hill almost everyday. To me, it’s holy ground—Mother Nature’s life-size reminder of where I once was and where I want to be: present, connected, and fully alive. My climbs up this hill are now numbered. I am down to two.

As I sweated my way up the hill the other day, I remembered my biggest worry when I moved here six years ago was that my younger daughter was still not walking. She was nearly two-years-old and preferred shuffling around upright on her knees. My husband and I joked that she might just slide across the stage with holey knees and a jubilant smile to accept her high school diploma. But alas, those worries were put to rest a few days after the moving boxes were unpacked. I’ll never forget how my curly-haired daughter stood right up, walked seventeen steps, and never looked back.

Yes, my daughter learned to walk in this house. I guess you could say so did I. I’d been running, running for so long that I’d forgotten how to slow down, to breathe, to live, not just merely survive.

[Read more...]

A Live More/Love More Summer: Getting Back to What Matters Most

live more love more 1

Just because summer is here doesn’t mean life’s demands and daily stressors magically disappear. Digital distraction is more than willing to ruin your family picnic. Perfection is ready to sabotage your refreshing dip in the pool. Pressure is ready to pounce from the bleachers of the ball field, and criticism is prepared to blast lane four at the swim meet. Hurry and impatience are fiercely determined to spoil a day at the beach or amusement park. As you know, distraction, perfection, and social pressures don’t take a summer vacation. They manage to weasel their way into our daily lives no matter what season it is. But it doesn’t have to be this way. How does a Live More/Love More Summer sound to you? Let’s use these precious summer months to get back to what matters most. Here’s how I do it (and by the way, this approach works year-round) … 

As my family makes our final preparations for an upcoming move out-of-state, I’ve been forced to think about what home means to me. I’ve always believed home is a feeling, not a place. But more specifically, home is the feeling of peace and completeness I feel when I am surrounded by the people I love. But recently, my definition of home has expanded.

Home is also living Hands Free.

What began as small, daily intentions to let go of distraction, societal pressure, and perfection has become a necessary way of life. Like water, air, and food, I need time to connect to what matters in some form or fashion each day—time to laugh, listen, and love are daily requirements for me.

Smelling my daughter’s freshly washed hair … feeling sunshine on my face as I wait for swim practice to conclude … jotting writing ideas in a notebook … talking to my husband when the house is quiet at night … fierce hugs before we go our separate ways … my Hands Free moments are home to me now.

But I must be realistic. As much as I would love all moments in life to be calm, present, safe, and undistracted, it is simply not possible. We live in a fast-paced world saturated with duties, deadlines, and devices. In a world inundated with distractions, it is easy to get far from home. Summertime is no exception.

Yet with almost four years experience living Hands Free, I am able to detect when I am getting too far from home. No longer am I willing to push and pressure and yes my way through life to the point I lose sight of everything that matters most.

Here are some of the difficult truths I say to myself when I am getting too far from home. These “red flags” help me realize when I need to say no, re-establish my boundaries, or reassess what matters and what doesn’t.

[Read more...]

Before You Decide All Hope is Lost …

hope

*name has been changed

“My dad wasn’t perfect. He lost his temper sometimes. He worked too much. He experienced periods of depression. But even through the rough patches, my dad always listened to me. He was never too busy, too distracted, or too desolate to listen to what I had to say—even in the rough patches.

And despite what the critics say—that giving a child our undivided attention creates a child who thinks the world revolves around him or her—I believe otherwise. Having a parent that listens creates a child who believes he or she has a voice that matters in this world.” –Rachel Macy Stafford

When I shared the above quote on The Hands Free Revolution page I received the following reader comment: “I listened to my kids. Now they won’t talk to me. Reading this makes me feel guilty. Let’s see how your kids turn out in twenty years.”

Although it isn’t always easy, I try to glean insight from all the comments I receive—even the negative ones. And this one really got me thinking.

[Read more...]

To Build (or Break) a Child’s Spirit

words to build or break a child

If you needed to lose weight, what would be most motivating?

You are fat. I’m not buying you any more clothes until you lose weight!

Or:

Let’s take a walk after dinner.
I’ll let you make the salad.
I love you just the way you are, exactly as you are.

If you needed to learn how to swim, what would be most motivating?

I don’t want to hear your crying. Get in the water and swim! Don’t be a baby!

Or:

I’ll be right by your side.
You can do this. If not today, we’ll try again tomorrow.
I love you just the way you are, exactly as you are.

If you needed to practice better hygiene, what would be most motivating?

What is that awful smell? It’s a wonder you have any friends.

Or:

Let’s go to the store and pick out some deodorant.
Your hair smells so good when you wash it. I think you should wash it every day.
I love you just the way you are, exactly as you are.

If your table manners needed improvement, what would be most motivating?

You eat like a pig. I cannot stand to watch you eat. You are disgusting.

Or:

I am trying to put down my fork after each bite, I’d like you to join me.
Thank you for chewing with your mouth closed.
I love you just the way you are, exactly as you are.

If you are a bit clumsy and disorganized, what would motivate you to be more responsible?

Can’t you do anything right? You are either losing things or making a mess!

Or:

Everyone makes mistakes. That’s how we learn.
It’s no big deal—just get a rag and clean it up.
I love you just the way you are, exactly as you are.

At times in my life I have been overweight, scared to swim, smelly, ill-mannered, and disorganized. During those times, I could have used some encouragement. So when I saw the young boy ordered to get out of the pool because he was scared to swim, I cried with him from behind my sunglasses. I saw the disappointment in the man’s eyes as he looked at his shivering son hugging his knees to his chest. The man really wanted his boy to learn to swim. He thought reprimanding him and ignoring the boy’s cries would motivate him to try harder next time.

At times in my life, I thought this too …

[Read more...]

Where Haters Can’t Tread

haters can't tread 3

In processing our family’s upcoming move to a new state, I’ve noticed my seven-year-old daughter is unable to think of all the people she will miss all at once. Instead, she’s been experiencing a slow awareness that highlights one person at a time. It’s sad and painful and sweeps her back to the moment she heard we were moving—when tears dotted the front of her blue GAP t-shirt.

It happened the other night as she was getting out her guitar to practice her latest Taylor Swift song. My child came flying into the kitchen—and this time it wasn’t to stall her practice session. I recognized that pitifully sad look on her face—the one that said the world as she knew it was crumbling a little more.

“I’m not going to have music lessons with Mr. Andrew anymore,” she said her lip quivering slightly. Huge tears formed in her eyes as she mumbled, “There won’t be another one like him, Mama.”

“Andrew’s been your ukulele and guitar teacher since you were itty bitty. He’s one of the kindest, most patient people we know, isn’t he? I am so glad you have all these years with him.” Without thinking, I instinctively opened my arms to my child. She nestled in and fit quite perfectly despite a significant growth spurt this spring.

I studied her smooth, round face and saw two fat tears escape from the corners of her closed eyes. My daughter stood there for a moment pressing her face against my stomach. I just held her in silence, smoothing stray hairs away from her face. I didn’t have any magic words. In fact, I didn’t have any words at all.

Within thirty seconds, my daughter stopped crying. She turned and went back to the living room and picked up her guitar. She began to sing and strum with vigor. I could tell by the passion in her voice that she was going to make the most of her remaining time with Mr. Andrew. She was going to be okay.

And I just stood there taking it all in.

Because in that moment, I felt better about myself than I had in months. And it was due to one simple fact: I bring comfort to my child. In fact, I am pretty darn good at it.

And I bet you are too.

[Read more...]

Today I Lived and You Did Too

today I lived

Today I was awakened by the sound of shuffling feet.
It was my early-bird riser in her big sister’s pajamas that drug across the floor.
I wanted to pull the covers over my head and feign sleep.
But instead I got up and made toaster waffles that she said tasted “divine.”
She kissed me with syrupy sweet lips.
Getting up wasn’t my first response. But I did it.
Today I lived.

Today she lost her shoes for the 37th time in two weeks.
It was right before we needed to head out the door.
I wanted to scream, to scold, to throw my hands in the air.
But instead I held her. I held her. My shoeless girl.
Together we found them wet with dew in the backyard and she whispered, “Sorry, I am forgetful, Mama.”
Being calm wasn’t my first response. But I did it.
Today I lived.

[Read more...]