The Best Advice for Loving Those Who ‘Feel It All’


“Life is better when you open your heart
You don’t always have to act so hard
Just be as you are.”
–Mike Posner, Be As You Are 

*name has been changed

“I had a terrible dream last night,” I told my 10-year-old daughter Avery on a recent Saturday morning. “I dreamed Annie* passed away.”

Annie is a seventy-nine-year-old old woman we met at a retirement home last spring when Avery played her guitar in a music therapy session. Upon learning Annie had not had a visitor in years, Avery asked if we could “adopt” her. We’d been visiting Annie for several months now.

The news of my terrible dream caused Avery to abruptly cease her morning waffle-savoring process. She knew “bad dream” for me meant vivid images, tearing-from-your-bed panic, real tears, and racing heartrate. Avery knew my nightly dreams were more intense than my everyday reality.

“Well,” Avery said, her face softening. “We better go see her, Mama.”

It did not surprise me Avery knew exactly what I needed her to hear.

On the way to the nursing home, we contemplated what Annie’s disposition would be. Normally bright and cheery, there had been that one troubling time when Annie was hostile, agitated, and barely recognizable. Last time that happened, I’d almost suggested we come back later. Before I could, Avery kneeled down in front of Annie’s wheelchair and said, “Do you want us to take you outside?”

Instead of giving us another angry “what do you want!?!” Annie whispered, “Okay.”

I hoped Annie would be cheerful and awake this time. But if she wasn’t, I would follow Avery’s lead. She seemed to know what was needed in such situations.


When my daughter and I stepped off the elevator onto Annie’s floor, we were met by the typical mid-afternoon scene at the nursing home. Lined up in wheelchairs along the hall were fragile residents slumped over like well-loved dolls. As we walked towards Annie’s room, shaky hands reached out to us. “Stop and talk to me,” their faces pleaded. We greeted each resident who was awake. Avery smiled brightly despite incoherent sentences and long-winded responses to the question: “How are you today?”

At the end of Wheelchair Row was Annie. Dressed in her favorite color, Annie slept peacefully in pink.

“I think we should wake her,” Avery said. Noticing my apprehension, she added, “She would not want to miss our visit.”

“Annie,” I said softly. “It’s your friends, Rachel and Avery.”

Annie woke up with a smile. “Why, hello!” It was as if she had been expecting us. Maybe she’d dreamed of us too. I thought oddly.

“It’s a beautiful day outside. Would you like us to take you out?” I asked.

“Oh boy, would I ever!” Annie said excitedly.

Avery and I worked as a team punching security codes, balancing doors, and steering small, uncooperative wheels until we were safely outside.
As usual, I asked Annie her favorite questions relating to Bingo, Elvis Presley, her mama’s cooking, and her love of arts and crafts. Annie answered each question happily. Periodically, a butterfly flittered past as if adding to the conversation.

“Look, Annie!” I said pointing to the colorful insect.

Like a child she giggled. “It’s marvelous! It’s just marvelous!”

“How’s your arm, Annie?” I asked knowing it often caused her pain. She immediately grabbed it and winced. The first time we met her, she told us she’d fallen from an airplane. Although the nurses were skeptical about that story, it never changed.

“It hurts … it always hurts,” Annie said as she rubbed it. She told us again about falling from a plane, this time adding a never-heard-before detail. “I was in the hospital for a long time,” she said. “I was under surveillance,” she said secretively. Avery looked at me surprised. Like me, she wasn’t expecting that word to come from this precious elderly woman’s lips.

Annie leaned forward as if to tell us something in confidence. “They kept a camera on me all the time. I couldn’t leave. I couldn’t go outside.” Her eyebrows burrowed as if remembering something painful. “I had an urge to leave,” she said, “but they wouldn’t let me.”

“Oh, that must have been terrible,” Avery sympathized as I struggled with what to say.

Annie looked up, surprised almost – and relieved – by Avery’s response. Perhaps her pain and her story had been dismissed again and again and today she was finally heard.

We pulled out the watercolor paints knowing it was one of Annie’s favorite activities. I made a flower for Annie to paint inside. But after a few strokes, Annie handed the brush to me. I added her favorite colors to the picture.


“What do you think?” I asked Annie.

“It’s absolutely wonderful! Just wonderful!” Annie rejoiced, but she was not looking at the paper; she was looking at the blue sky above her head.

Avery set down her own paintbrush and said, “Would you like me to sing one of your favorite songs?”

Annie nodded and began to sing along as Avery sang, “You Are My Sunshine.” About mid-way through the song, a tear came down Annie’s cheek. As she wiped it away, Avery kept singing.

In a matter of forty-five minutes, this precious woman had experienced a gamut of emotions: child-like joy, intense fear, pain, relief, and sadness. I was intrigued by the way my daughter stayed steady through them all. Annie’s swings of emotion and bouts of pain did not spring Avery into action, nor did they upset her or make her uncomfortable. They were just emotions, and Avery was willing to take them alongside her friend.

I reached up and felt the exquisite gold charm that hung from my neck. It was given to me at a recent speaking event in California. It was a handmade piece by a talented and grateful mother of a child with autism. The medallion read: “I feel it all.” When Dana gave it to me, she said she knew I’d understand.


She was right. Not only did I understand, I felt understood. “I feel it all” are words I know well – sometimes too well. I’ve always been highly sensitive, and for decades I tried to tone my feelings down, reign them in, toughen them up. But over the past few years, Avery has altered my perception of being a deep feeler. Her acceptance has helped me see my sensitivity as a gift and part of who I am. When I am moved to tears at animal shelters, churches, swim meets, and guitar recitals … when I am moved to tears by speeches of hope, stories of pain, well-written songs, horrible dreams, and beautiful sunsets … when I am moved to tears at inopportune times and inappropriate places, one daughter tries to fix or subdue before anyone notices while the other daughter says, “It’s okay. Cry if you need to. That’s just who you are, Mama.”

It did not surprise me that Avery was leery when I told her a reader of my blog thought they might be related to Annie and would be sending a friend to visit her.

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” she said skeptically. “They won’t know how to talk to her. They won’t understand her.”

“What do you mean?” I asked curiously.

“To just let her talk, even if it doesn’t make sense. Don’t try to correct her if she says she fell out of an airplane or dated Elvis. Don’t try to stop her tears if she cries or try to distract her from her sadness,” said Annie’s advocate with conviction. “Just let her feel what she feels.”

Just let her feel what she feels

And as I do several times as day, I thanked God for this child who teaches me so much about loving others well.


Sometimes other people’s emotions, struggles, memories, and grief are too much for us. Perhaps they make us feel uncomfortable or we feel helpless to “fix it” or we don’t know what to say so we distance ourselves. But what people most need in their feeling moment is for us to get close, stay steady, and let them feel what they feel.

And with that, I want to offer a bit of validation to you, dear ones:

First, to the feelers of the world:

We need you, those who feel it all. Your visible emotion reminds us what it means to be human. Please don’t wipe those tears; wear them proudly as your badge of honor. Your ability to feel it all is what enables you to create words, art, music, organizations, and conversations that connect, unify, and strengthen us.

Next, to the pain companions of the world:

We need you, those who sit with the deep feelers. To see, hear, and accept strong emotions without trying to fix them or push them away is a critical role. You are healers, encouragers, and light protectors who literally save a life each time you sit with someone else’s pain.

And finally, to those who are a bit numb, a bit out of touch with their emotions today:

If you suspect the feeling part of your soul has been suppressed, shamed, numbed, or dismissed far too long, today is a good day to rouse it awake and bring it into the sunshine …

Look at the changing colors of the leaves on the tree; let gratitude for what has been and what is to come fill your heart to the point of tears.

Watch your loved ones, young or old, doing what they do best; let your love for them spill out onto your cheeks.

Look at your hands; recognize that they’ve nurtured, sacrificed, worked, and worried. Let peace drip into those hands as you relish your quiet accomplishments.

Notice your thoughts. How do you really feel today? Reflect on your memories. What is your happiest memory? What is your most painful one? Close your eyes and dream. What is your greatest hope for this day, for this one precious life?

Feel it all right now, dear ones. Don’t wait another day to let your feelings show.

And if you fear you’re alone in your tears, please know you are not. There is a young girl and an elderly woman singing a familiar song about life’s joys and heartaches. Take a look. Along with a wondrous sight, you’ll see this beautiful truth: When tears of pain unite with a steady companion, hope is born.  

Let’s feel it all together, dear ones, and love each other well.


Friends of The Hands Free Revolution, meeting you face-to-face is one of my greatest joys. Here are my upcoming speaking events: 

  • Des Moines, IA – Every Woman Counts Event to benefit Count the Kicks. Tickets go on sale in February.

    * Thank you for being part of our community here on the blog, on Facebook, & Instagram. I feel like every comment is a gift and a guide to loving each other well. 

I Was Perpetually Angry Until Joy Became My Goal



“If I could say anything, anything
What would it be?
A good question for a distant reality
I would tell you that I love you
Even when it didn’t show.”
–Tristen Prettyman, Say Anything

I typically don’t read many Facebook status updates—and I especially don’t read them multiple times—but this particular one stopped me cold. It was an observation shared by my friend Nicki Salcedo. Whether penning a novel, an op-ed piece, or a Facebook status update, Nicki’s words never fail to provide enlightenment and introspection. This was Nicki’s informal, yet powerful observation:

“Nighttime soccer practice. I see a family I know. They have back-to- back practices for their girls. That amounts to three hours of soccer on a Tuesday night. 

Me: “Wow, you guys have a long night.”

Dad: “Yeah, but I’ve got to head over and cut my son’s hair. He has cancer. He’s in the hospital. I’m going to Northside.”

It is 7:30pm at night. We live across town from that hospital. The dad leaves. He calls his daughter the best nickname when she plays. He admits he doesn’t know much about soccer, but he’s learning.

I think about all these angry parents. Angry people. For what? They have everything and want more.

The quiet ones simply enjoy seeing their kids kick a ball.” –Nicki Salcedo

It was no mystery why I read Nicki’s observation three times.

Nor was it any mystery why her words made me cry.

I was that angry person.

I know because my husband had the courage to tell me. Something along the lines of: You walk around the house looking angry all the time. Your face is always set in a scowl.

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What The Kid Sitting Alone Wants You to Know


“Everything’s in line
But I am bruised
I need a voice to echo
I need a light to take me home
I kinda need a hero
Is it you?” -Demi Lovato, Nightingale 

One of my very first students as a special education teacher was Annie. She taught me so much about living a “feeling” life, and her parents were some of my greatest encouragers. Over the years, I’ve kept in touch with this special family, but especially since Annie’s dad John was diagnosed with cancer seven years ago. John recently began a new medication and he’s felt better than he has in years. Much to my surprise, they asked if they could visit my family and me. To them, the 500-mile drive was irrelevant; John had something he wanted to say to me.

Within minutes of arriving, John thanked me with tears in his eyes. He said Annie would not be where she is today without me. I wanted to point out that Annie was the one who changed me, but it was not the time. Perhaps now is the time.

When Annie became my student, I was fresh out of college, just beginning my master’s degree in special education. I’d never had a student with autism. I did a lot of listening and observing. What I saw in Annie amazed me. I wanted her peers to see it too. I often sat with her in her classroom, in the lunchroom, and on the playground to help her use the social skills we worked on during our sessions together.

I remember how Annie and I would find a place at the empty lunch table and children would gravitate towards us. Little girls with bouncy ponytails and brightly colored socks eagerly squeezed in. I wasn’t naïve; I realized the children wanted to know this new young teacher who always wore a warm smile, gracefully mastered platform wedge heels, and coached the high school girls’ tennis team. Although I was the initial appeal, it was Annie who stole the show.

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“I Hurt With Her,” She Said & I Took Note

dsc_0841Imagine if you asked yourself for a minute,
What if I had your heart?
What if you wore my scars?
How would we break down?
What if you were me?
What if I were you?
-Five for Fighting, What If

“Did you see the girl with the big smile, Mama? I hope we’re friends someday,” my daughter said as we walked away from the lemonade stand just days after moving into our new neighborhood.

I saw her. Oh yes, I saw that beaming of ray of light. My heart did a summersault when my daughter was introduced to L. The girls were going into the same grade, and they both were new to the area.

Within a few weeks, the girls were inseparable. Their shared love of music instantly bonded them. For hours, they’d sing and dance in the basement—their voices more confident and assured together than alone.

The quickly developing bond between two friends was solidified on a painful bus ride home shortly after our move. I took note that fateful day, occurring exactly two years ago. I knew it was important to remember what I witnessed. So when my husband sent me a photo of the two girls on the football field the other night, I knew it was time to share their story and the photo.

Let me just say, this is more than a friendship, and it’s more than a photo. It is a goal … a model … an aspiration of what we could be if we collectively agree to take note.

This is their story …

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Your Saving Day

fullsizerender-2“I can’t stand to fly
I’m not that naive
I’m just out to find
The better part of me.”
-Five for Fighting, Superman

When my daughters and I arrived to do our volunteer duties last Sunday, we noticed a new cat in one of the shelter cages. When I began reading Sheryl the cat’s story of how she was rescued from a maintenance man threatening to terminate her and her six kittens, I knew exactly who this cat was. We fostered her babies all summer long! I hurriedly unlocked the cage and pulled that sweet mama to my chest. I was not expecting to become emotional, but I did. I could not stop the tears.

I was holding a four-legged miracle.

When this cat was rescued from the apartment building, she was close to death. It took her three months to recover from anemia caused by a parasite—but here she was, happy and healthy.

When my daughters and I told Mama Cat Sheryl how we found loving homes for all her babies, she purred even louder. She nestled in and rested her head on my shoulder. Perhaps she could sense we had stepped in to love her precious kittens when she couldn’t do it herself.

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The Index Card Every Kid Needs to Get Today

Image 7
It was a chance for parents to get to know their child’s middle school teachers. We would spend ten minutes in each classroom listening to the teacher share his or her educational background, classroom procedures, and expectations. I wasn’t expecting to hear anything earth shattering that night, but I did. As soon as Mr. B began talking, I sensed I was in a very special place and there would be an important takeaway. My hope is that my takeaway becomes yours too.


As parents settled into their seats, Mr. B immediately noted the stack of index cards in the middle of the desks. He invited us to take one and write down our child’s passions. “Connecting with each student is very important to me,” the science teacher explained. “Tapping into what makes them excited … what makes them come to life … is my goal,” he explained.

But here is where I went from simply listening to actually feeling his words:

“Nothing pains me more than walking down a school hallway and seeing a desolate look on a child’s face, like they are in prison. It pains me because that was me,” he said. “School felt like prison. I dreaded each and every day. Creating a classroom where kids are excited, comfortable, and known can make all the difference.”

And here is when two warm tears slid down my cheeks:

“Parents, I never want students in my class to stress if they need an extra day to prepare for a test or complete an assignment. There is a fine line between pushing our kids and understanding they have lots of things going on. I don’t want them to stress about my class,” he said reassuringly. “Have them talk to me. We’ll work it out.”

I felt a collective sigh of relief among those sitting around me. We’d never heard such a thing—perhaps in our whole lives. Just imagine how the students felt when they heard this beautiful offer of compassion and understanding. I thought to myself getting teary again.

Just then, the intercom sounded. The ten-minute session was up; it was time to go to the next class.

I didn’t want to leave.

I wanted to hear more pressure-relieving words of wisdom from this kind and generous educator.

“Oh, and if you and your child see me in the community, please walk up and say hi!” he said loudly over the pushing in of chairs and departure commotion. “I promise you won’t be bothering me. I never stop being a teacher. I am all in.”

He’s all in.

I looked down at my index card. I’d filled up both sides, my handwriting getting smaller and smaller towards the end. I had so much to say.

He’d asked about my girl—my smart, funny, conscientious, bright, beautiful girl. But because she is quiet and shy in school settings, people often never know who she really is.

But he asked. And more importantly, he wanted to know.

He’s all in.

And my heart nearly burst with gratitude because of it.

I stood in line behind all the other parents who wanted to shake the hand of the man who was creating an optimal learning environment for their child to thrive. Many of us hadn’t met anyone like him before. As expected, the gentle teacher looked into each person’s eyes and appeared grateful for the opportunity to meet them.

When I got home, my daughter asked which teacher did I think was her favorite.

“Mr. B,” I said without hesitation.

She smiled. “He is so kind and interesting, Mom. I am so glad I got him for a teacher.”

I sat down on the kitchen stool, anxious to tell her how he moved me to tears (minus the tears part because she would have been mortified by that detail.) “Mr. B asked us to fill out an index card detailing what you’re passionate about,” I told her. “He wants to get to know each one of his 150 students. Isn’t that remarkable?”

“Wow! What did you write?” she asked curiously.

“I took a picture so you could see,” I said handing her my phone.

Image 1

Image 2
“Mom! Did you really fill up both sides?” she exclaimed, sounding slightly embarrassed and slightly delighted.

But her question didn’t require an answer. She was already reading my comments. A look of pure joy and peace settled on her face. Yes, she was known … and she wanted to be known. But don’t we all? Yet, oftentimes, we’re not. But Mr. B gave me hope. Which brings me to the takeaway I promised you:

Your child may not have a teacher like Mr. B and possibly never will. But there is something to be learned from this man that we can all use and offer today:

Connection – let us remember it is the key to understanding, acceptance, and assurance. It offers refuge from the pressures and critics of the world. Connection provides a secure foundation for human spirits to grow and flourish.

Pressure – let us be flexible with our demands and expectations. Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that a task or goal doesn’t have to be completed on our timeline or in a specific way. The healing and hopeful words, “don’t stress,” are a gift we can give to alleviate pressure and focus on what truly matters.

Availability – let us be one who is approachable – no matter how tired we are, no matter how busy we are, no matter how bad of a day we just had. If our children approach us, let love never be ‘off the clock.’ Offer a loving hello and an “I’m so glad to see you.” We might then become the one they seek out in times of despair and challenge.

Knowledge – let us never stop wanting to know what makes our loved ones excited, curious, passionate, and alive. Start a collection of index cards documenting what you are learning about your beloveds. Share it with them. Let them see how wonderful you think they are. And if you don’t know their passions, make it your mission to find out.

Today holds the opportunity to notice desolate faces as they walk through the hallways of our lives. As Mr. B reminds us, we hold a precious key—one that opens a passageway to potential with plenty of room to breathe.

I’m all in.

How about you?

Let’s fill the world with index cards, writing love on every line of our beloveds’ hopeful hearts.



Friends, if you accept the index card challenge, please let us know in our Hands Free communities on Facebook & Instagram. Use the hashtag #indexcardchallenge so we can inspire each other! Please see the Presence Pledge print if you would like a visual reminder in your home to leave your loved one’s spirit stronger and brighter. See the Hands Free Shop for wearable reminders to choose connection and love over distraction and criticism. And now for some incredible resources to help us parent the way Mr. B teaches:

  • Co-Parenting Without Power Struggles is a free online series hosted by the incredible Susan Stiffelman, a certified marriage & family therapist with over 30 years of experience. Each of Susan’s guests will be sharing gems of wisdom and practical guidance around co-parenting and invaluable information for managing life as a single parent. Speakers include: Byron Katie, Martha Beck, Glennon Doyle Melton, Harville Hendrix, Dr. Michele Borba, Dr. Laura Markham, Katherine Woodward Thomas, and John Gray. Registration for the entire series of classes is absolutely FREE, and replays of the classes will be available for all who register in advance. Click here to register. The summit airs September 20 – 24.
  • Casey O’Roarty of Joyful Courage has written a powerful article called “10 Steps to Becoming a More Intentional Parent.” If that article resonates with you, I encourage you to join Casey in her Intentional Parent Project. It is a 10-week course beginning Monday, September 12th that joins the internal work of parenting with external tools for inviting more cooperation and contribution into the home.

A final note from Rachel: California Bay Area friends, just a few more days until we are together! Last minute seats are expected to come available for this sold out event. Email Carol at to inquire about a ticket! Friends in other parts of the country, please see my event page for four speaking events scheduled for this fall and spring.

Thank you for sharing your stories & your encouragements! The comment section of this blog and the Facebook page are pure gold because of you.

The Apology I Never Want to Hear Again

Image 15

“I’m on your side,
So shed your shadow
And watch it rise.
Into your darkness,
I’ll shine a light.
Bring your secrets, bring your scars.
Bring your glory, all you are.”
–Phillip Phillips, Unpack Your Heart

The headlining band had just come on stage. The crowd was on their feet, cheering wildly. I was taking it all in—the lights, the sounds, the smell of the rain coming down just beyond the amphitheater covering. Flanked between my dear friend and my loving husband, all my senses were alive and content.

That’s when she turned to me—the young woman positioned in the isle in front of me. “I’m sorry,” she said as she leaned towards me, attempting to talk over the loud music.

I wasn’t sure I heard her right. What could she be apologizing for? I wondered. I leaned in closer and listened carefully.

“I’m sorry you have to look at my soggy, fat ass all night,” she said.



 No. No. No. I thought as my brain scrambled for a response.

I hoped that perhaps she was joking—but the solemn look on this woman’s face confirmed this was no laughing matter. She was apologizing for her appearance … for her size … for taking up space … for being her.

Although I felt like crying, I placed my hand on this young woman’s upper arm. It was wet from a mixture of sweat and precipitation, but I was not repulsed. I rested my hand there, on the arm of someone’s beautiful daughter and said what I hoped would liberate her for at least a couple hours.

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The Low-Hanging Fruit You Can’t Afford to Miss


“Gonna walk this road
See where it leads
Gonna bless the flowers
Gonna bless the weeds
Gonna stay together
Nothing’s gonna pull us apart
Gonna walk this road and mend each others hearts.”
–Eric Bibb

*names have been changed

Even if his checkout line is a little longer, I always choose this particular bagger’s lane. This conscientious young man reminds me of a former special education student who brightened my first year of teaching. If I needed to move a chair, *Dan was there, refusing to let me lift a finger. If I was about to open a window, Dan was quick to say, “Let me do that for you, Miss Macy.” If he heard I was having car troubles, he’d offer to take a look during his lunch hour. Amazingly, Dan offered the same kindness to all his teachers and fellow classmates. Dan struggled with academics, but in altruism, he excelled.

This particular bagger resembles Dan in looks, but especially in mannerisms. The first time he bagged my groceries, I could see he was cut from the same cloth as my former student – he was a helper too.

“Hello,” said the young man as I pulled up my cart.

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An Unusual Term for Death that Helps Me Live Fully in Today

DSC_0219“It’s the perfect time of day
It’s the last day of your life
Don’t let it drift away
While your heart is still racing
It’s the perfect time of day.”
Howie Day

I avoided a particular closet in my house for two years. Stacked inside were five large, plastic bins stuffed with loose papers, writing notebooks, and keepsakes I didn’t have time to file before we moved two years ago. Coincidentally, the items inside the containers were collected during the first four years of my journey to a less distracted life.

For the past two years, I’ve wanted to go through the massive collection piece by piece, determining whether it should be filed or discarded. But the task was immense and intimidating. It was much easier to avoid the closet altogether and plan on doing it another day.

‘Another day’ finally arrived in July when I was taking a month-long break from blogging and posting online to spend time with my family and focus on an on-going physical pain in my body.

I was only halfway through the first container when I was generously rewarded for taking on this monumental task. There, among the disarray, was something that didn’t belong to me. It was a booklet of poems addressed to my dad. I’m not sure why I had it. I’d never seen it before.

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The Photo that Conveyed a Message You Need to Hear

DSC_0131“In the morning to another day,
twisting and dodging the drops of rain
Now I know what I wanna be,
it’s what you already see.”
-Sister Hazel, You See Me Beautiful

This is a picture of my Noticer of life child and Lacie, a kitten we fostered over the summer. This photo was taken right before Lacie’s new owner came to take her to her forever home. When I looked at my camera after taking the picture, I knew I had to tell you this story, and I knew today, August 12th, would be the day.

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