A State Where You Can Thrive & Your People Can Breathe

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

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

Let me explain …

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

From a state of calm … to a state of impatience

From a state of caring … to a state of apathy

From a state of presence … to a state of distraction

From a state of hope … to a state of despair

From a state of joy … to a state of infuriation

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

I know. I remember.

It was the indescribable look of fear on my child’s face when she spilled a bag of rice that helped me see what I could not see before. I was crossing those fragile state lines into angry, desolate, critical, and cheerless territories far too often and for reasons that were quite insignificant in the grand scheme of life.

But seeing that my child had become fearful of my reactions was a powerful motivator for change. I did not want my children to grow up with a mother who spent most of her life living on the negative side. I wanted to be remembered for my smile, not my scowl. I wanted to be a safe haven, not someone to avoid. I wanted to be a Silver Lining Spotter and teach my children to look on the bright side too.

silver liningsMy vow to have a more peaceful and predictable demeanor did not mean I promised never to cross those fragile state lines. I am human after all. Even now, nearly five years into this journey, I still cross those fragile state lines. I get sad, frustrated, angry, hopeless, and insecure. Yes, I still cross those state lines, but there is a profound difference in what I do once I get there.

I do not stay.

I come back.

I come back home before I get too far down a damaging path.

It happened recently as I was pulling my car into the garage after picking up my daughter from swim team practice. It was dark outside and the rain was coming down hard. For some reason, the garage door opener was not working. I pulled the car up as close to the door as I could, but it still would not open. I ended up going through the house to lift the door. When I eventually pulled the car in, it was at a different angle than usual. I proceeded to scrape the side of the car against the brick wall.

Suddenly I felt like a young, inexperienced driver who was going to have to confess to her parents that she damaged the car. My inner perfectionist quickly sabotaged any calm, rational thoughts I’d hoped to have in that moment.

“Why did I do that? WHY????” I cried out. “I should have been more careful!” I slammed my fist against the steering wheel in frustration.

My younger daughter put her hands over her ears and my older daughter forcefully declared, “Mom! It was a mistake! It’s okay!”

And that’s when I heard the life-saving words that distinguish me from who I once was to who I am now. “Come back. Come back,” my loving internal navigation system whispered. “You don’t have to go any farther down that damaging path. Come back. Come back.”

I forced myself to look into the eyes of my children in an effort to gather some perspective and remember they are learning how to respond to life’s challenges by watching my responses. “We are all okay, aren’t we?” I said quietly, reminding myself what was really important.

There was a collective sigh from the backseat. It wasn’t too long ago that I would have had difficulty coming back. The old me would have gone on a rant, broke down and cried, or berated myself endlessly. Shortly thereafter, I’d arrive at Regret—and Regret, as you may know, offers a lot of one-way tickets. It’s one of the hardest places to ever leave.

“Maybe it’s not so bad,” I said hopefully as I got out of the car to inspect the damage. And to my surprise, the sound of the accident was much worse than it actually was.

DSC_0619“See, Mama? It’s okay! We’re okay!” my little optimist said surveying the damage with a smile. And then, while standing there looking at my scraped up car, I managed to smile back at her. I was so relieved I’d chosen to come home.

Last week a member of The Hands Free Revolution left a comment on the blog post that jumped out at me. She said, “I can be the party, but staying the party—that’s the hard part for me.”

Oh those dreaded state lines. It sounded like she knew them too. Perhaps she needed to know how to come back—how to come back before going even farther down that damaging path. The following message is for her and for anyone else who wants to come back to a place of peace and connection in times of challenge and strife …

Come Back

It doesn’t take much to cross over those fragile state lines,
From a state of grace … to a state of unkindness
From a state of clarity … to a state of doubt
From a state of gratitude … to a state of negativity
From a state of harmony … to a state of turmoil
From a state of ambition … to a state of inaction

Just one lost homework paper
Just one mediocre work review
Just one blow to your self-esteem
Just one wrong turn
Just one stupid mistake
Just one more ear infection
Just one more sleepless night
Just one more let down

Before you know it, you’ve crossed over
And find yourself in that place you never wanted to be (again).

Don’t stay there.
And certainly don’t go any farther down the road to the inescapable state of Regret.
This trip called Life is too short and too precious to spend in such dismal places.

Come back.
Come back.

Forgive yourself.
Forgive the one who wronged you.

Decide this isn’t over.
Decide you’ve only just begun.

Lower the bar. It’s good enough for the people who love you.
Scale back. Surrender the pressure to “do it all.”

Take ten minutes to do something you love.
Take an old hand or a young hand in yours. See loving memories and future possibilities in their palms.

Whisper: “Let it be. Let it be.”
Declare: “I cannot control, so let me release.”

Turn up a good song.
Call up a good friend.

Hug the person nearest you.
Hug the person farthest out of reach.

Put something of value in someone’s empty cup.
Put something of value in your own cup.

Walk outside and spot something beautiful.
Dig inside and spot something beautiful you thought was gone.

Come back.
Come back.

Crossing those fragile state lines is part of being human.
But don’t stay in a place you cannot thrive.

Come back.
Come back.

The door might be difficult to open.
And it might not be a flawless entry.
But once you get back to a state of peace, it’s easier to see what’s important.
“It’s okay. We are all okay,” you or a loved one might say despite the scrapes and bruises you see.

Come back.
Come back.
There’s no map needed.
Just listen to that little voice reminding you that love can bring you home.

home

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

Friends of The Hands Free Revolution, thank you for the incredible response to “The Life of the Party is Closer Than You Think.” My story has been syndicated on Mampedia, one of the most informative and empowering parenting sites available on the Internet. I am grateful for their support in spreading the message, and I encourage you to check out the wisdom shared by many voices on their uplifting site.

I was also truly moved by the outpouring of support and interest you expressed in my new book HANDS FREE LIFE: 9 Habits for Overcoming Distraction, Living Better, & Loving More. One reader asked how it was different than Hands Free Mama and I thought I would share my response in case others had the same question:

The steps I outlined in Hands Free Mama to become less distracted were truly just the beginning. In order to be completely free to focus on what truly enriches our lives, we must acquire a new perspective. We must recognize the larger, all-encompassing distractions of our culture that divert us from living and loving fully. This is where HANDS FREE LIFE comes in. In this book, I reveal nine intentional habits that ignite a sense of urgency—urgency to live … love … dream … connect … embrace … forgive … and flourish. Adopting the nine habits of a Hands Free Life is a deeper, more enduring process than simply putting down the phone, burning the to-do list, and letting go of perfection. I am very excited to share it with this community as many of the questions I am commonly asked provided inspiration for the book. You can learn more and pre-order it here.

* Note about next week: As you may remember from this post, my mom had a sudden onset of Bell’s Palsy a few weeks ago. I am going to be spending some time with her so the blog and The Hands Free Revolution page will be quiet for a bit beginning on April 4th while we enjoy each others’ company. Thank you for understanding the importance of living the message that I write. 

The Life of the Party is Closer than You Think

the world needs more open arms1
“She is like a sun,
Shining over me
She makes the good things better,
Better than I ever dreamed.”
-Green River Ordinance

The other night, my friend and brilliant writer Alexandra Rosas shared a glimpse into her life. With short, non-descriptive sentences, it wasn’t intended to be profound. With text structure unpolished and informal, it wasn’t meant to evoke an emotional response like the well-crafted essays she writes. But yet her words brought me to my knees. I read them three times and then I cried. This is what Alexandra shared:

I fell asleep on the couch at 7 last night. Woke up two hours later at 9, looked around, everyone gone. I popped in to check on littlest, found him in bed reading. “Where is everyone, honey?” He looked up and answered, “We all went to bed, Mom, because you’re the party.”

That’s it, I thought to myself. This woman has achieved life’s highest honor. She is the party. She is the heartbeat. She is the reason for gathering. She is the celebration. If there is a more important role in life, I do not know what it is.

For days, I thought about that ultimate compliment spoken by a little boy about his mother. In fact, I became a little obsessed with it. Could I be the party? The question frequently popped into my mind in the following days …

[Read more…]

Before You Predict a Child’s Future, Try This Instead

chalk“Love… What is love? Love is to love someone for who they are, who they were, and who they will be.”
–Chris Moore

To the person who said my child would set a world record for longest period of time any human has gone without brushing the back of her head …

To the person who said she’d get her driver’s permit before she learned to ride a bike …

To the person who said she’d always move at a snail’s pace …

You were wrong.

 

To the person who said my child would never enjoy running unless it was to the ice cream truck …

To the person who said it would take a miracle to get her to dive off the starting blocks …

To the person who said she’d be sucking her thumb during the SAT test …

You should see her now.

 

To the person who said she’d always be a bit of a loner …

To the person who said she would probably get married in stretchy pants …

To the person who said she would live happily ever after among clutter, knick-knacks, stuffed animals, and snack wrappers …

I’d like to give you a piece of my mind.

But then I’d have to give myself a piece of my mind. Because it was me. I was the one with these future-diminishing thoughts about my child. I was the one who had her pegged from an early age, as if I had a crystal ball that predicted her destiny. Good thing I never said these things out loud … or so I thought. At a recent swim meet, I learned that my thoughts had the power to influence, and it wasn’t necessarily for good.

[Read more…]

The One Thing We All Want to Know

all want to know 1“I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I myself become the wounded person.”

- Walt Whitman

I recently attended an informational meeting for fifth grade parents at the middle school my daughter will be attending this fall. After swallowing the lump in my throat caused by the undeniable reality of why I was sitting there, I settled in to absorb everything the staff had to offer about parenting a middle schooler. But within the first five minutes of the presentation, I got stuck. It was something the assistant principal said.

“You might think opening their locker or having seven teachers is the greatest worry for sixth graders on that first day of school—but it’s not. In general, their biggest source of angst is knowing how they’re getting home.”

The administrator proceeded to explain where bus routes could be accessed during the summer months, but I was only half listening. All I could think about was this:

They just want to know how they’re getting home.

My mind returned to one particularly trying day in my own middle school career. I’d forgone the city bus and made a long walk home, crying all the way. I’d gotten my first C, and I was devastated. When I got to the door, my grandma opened it. I’d forgotten she was spending the week with us. I quickly wiped my snotty face and forced a smile, but Grandma couldn’t be fooled.

“Rachel, what’s wrong?” she exclaimed. Despite the prominent wrinkles on my grandma’s heart-shaped face, I saw worry lines appear between her eyes.

“I got a C on my math test, Grandma,” I confessed between sobs.

Grandma immediately pulled me to her chest. Her shaky hands smoothed my hair lovingly. And then she said the words I needed to hear. “Rachel, no one is going to be mad at you. Your mama and daddy love you, no matter what.” And then she looked directly into my red, puffy face and said, “I love you.”

They just want to know how they’re getting home, the school administrator had said.

And I would add:

They just want to know there will be a welcoming smile and two open arms waiting for them, no matter what they’ve done, no matter what kind of day they’ve had.

[Read more…]

The Kind of Mothering We All Need

“To Mother, to me, means to nurture. To heal, to help grow, to give. And so anyone and everyone who is involved in the healing of the world is a Mother.  Anyone who tends to a child, or friend, or stranger, or animal or garden is a Mother. Anyone who tends to Life is a Mother.” –Glennon Doyle Melton photo by the talented Amy Paulson www.amy-paulson.com

“To Mother, to me, means to nurture. To heal, to help grow, to give. And so anyone and everyone who is involved in the healing of the world is a Mother.  Anyone who tends to a child, or friend, or stranger, or animal or garden is a Mother. Anyone who tends to Life is a Mother.” –Glennon Doyle Melton
photo of Rachel & Glennon by the talented Amy Paulson www.amy-paulson.com

 

*name has been changed to protect privacy

I recently went outside my comfort zone and made a ninety-minute drive in unfamiliar territory to hear one of my favorite authors speak. My hesitations about leaving the comfort of my home on a Friday night at rush hour in the pouring down rain all were abruptly silenced by three words, “I need this.”

You see, my friend Glennon writes words that offer me refuge. With hope spreading like my grandma’s arms, I feel understood and unalone in her space. I knew that hearing her speak her truths would be like an I.V. of pure goodness flowing straight into my blood stream.

Sure enough, the experiences and revelations Glennon shared from a comfy couch, shoes tossed to the side, made me laugh out loud, clap enthusiastically, and cry unashamedly. But when Glennon was asked what advice she’d give people trying to be the best parent, person, or human being they could be, I became completely still. Glennon said, “Find something that fills you up and then do it.” During a painfully low point in her life Glennon followed an intense urge to sit at the edge of the ocean for hours and hours. She realized that sound, that smell, and that feeling was vital to her ability to thrive. She knew that she needed to sit by the water’s edge once a week and so that is what she did … that is what she does. “Find beauty that is just for you … find beauty that will fill you up,” she encouraged.

Much to my dismay, the program came to an end. I began heading for the exit when someone tapped me on my shoulder. “Excuse me, but my friend loves your blog and was wondering if she could talk to you.”

[Read more…]

When’s the Last Time Life Excited You?

hug life 1“With arms outstretched I thank.
With heart beating gratefully I love.
With body in health I jump for joy.
With spirit full I live.”
~Terri Guillemets

I honestly could not remember seeing my child this excited about something in her whole life. She exploded off the school bus gripping the American Heart Association Jump Rope for Heart information sheet in her hand and never let it out of her sight. She studied it while eating a snack. She kept it right beside her while she did her homework. She read over it multiple times while I made dinner as if she’d be tested on it.

“Every $50 we earn can help a child with a heart problem,” she explained to me during a rare glance up from the paper. “If we earn $5, we get Splatter. He’s the duck with the paint splotches. And I really want to earn Sky Dude. See him, Mama?” Avery pointed to a green duck wearing an orange helmet. “I am going to ask people to sponsor me. Then I am going to practice jumping.”

My daughter ran off to get started on her plan, nearly forgetting her colorful brochure—but not quite. When she ran back and snatched it up like a rare diamond, the oddest statement came to my head.

“I want to get excited about ducks.”

[Read more…]

‘Choose Love’ 21-Day Challenge

21 day challenge

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

It was this, the second to last question during my interview on Better Worldians Radio that stirred something inside me:

“With the success of your book and popularity of your website I imagine you could be busier than ever. How do you keep the balance and keep living Hands Free?” asked Gregory, one of the show’s hosts.

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

The night before the Hands Free Mama manuscript was due to my publisher I was working furiously to meet my deadline. My parents had come from Florida to help me any way they could.

It was around 8:30 p.m. and I was bent over the keyboard surrounded by empty soda cans, crumpled papers, and used sticky notes.

I felt my mom gently touch my arm. She’d just come from my older daughter’s bedroom. “Natalie requested her nightly Talk Time, Rachel,” she whispered softly.

Without hesitation, I got up from my work and headed straight toward Natalie’s room.

Suddenly my mom called out after me, neither of us knowing that what she was about to say would become one of my greatest Hands Free motivators. “I tried to tell Natalie that you had a lot of work to do tonight but she adamantly said, ‘Grandma, Mama always comes.”

Mama always comes.

I stopped midway up the stairs in an effort to wrap both my brain and hands around those sacred words and accept them as mine.

[Read more…]

A Moment Longer Than Necessary

“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” ~ William Arthur Ward

 

While growing up, I periodically told my sister something I never told anyone else. 

“I think I’m going to die young,” I’d tell her matter-of-factly long before the popular song made such a dismal fate sound glamorous.

“Don’t say that, Rachel!” she protested the first time I said it. But after that initial disclosure, my sister seemed to get used to me saying it, especially around my birthday each year. By my twenties, my sister’s reaction to my depressing prediction was always compassionate and often inquisitive.

“Why? Why do you think that, Rachel?” she asked me as we drove to the mall on a bitter cold January day to shop for my 22nd birthday gift.

I didn’t know why. All I knew is that I could envision my demise like an intense movie trailer. In my 30-second preview, I could see I was around 33 or 34 years old and it happened on an Interstate.

Much to my dismay, my husband and I moved from Indiana’s slow country roads to Florida’s six-lane super highways right before I turned thirty. Naturally, that time in my life held a subtle sense of foreboding. To add to my worries, it was necessary to travel on I-75 to get to many places I needed to go.

I’d driven on plenty of Interstates in the Midwest, but this particular thoroughfare was different. It was faster. It was bumper-to-bumper. There was no shortage of intimidating eighteen-wheelers barreling past. And no matter what time of day it was, I could always count on seeing numerous roadside accidents. By age thirty-two, I had a precious baby in the backseat of the car as I drove that 12-mile stretch. I remember my hands becoming so sweaty that I could barely grip the steering wheel. I remember praying the entire way, hoping that particular trip would not be my last.

But here is where the goodness came in …

[Read more…]

One Word That Can Bring Us Back to What Matters

name HFM 1For the past six months, my 11-year-old daughter and I have been preoccupied with baby names. You see, when my sister-in-law invited Natalie and I to offer name suggestions for her third baby, we embraced it like a full-time job. At swim meets, we scoured the heat sheets for lovely names. At the doctor’s office, we exchanged knowing glances when we heard a name we thought my sister-in-law might like. My daughter and I searched baby name websites and when we found a good prospect, we’d pronounce it with the last name. If it had a pleasing sound, we’d write out the initials to make sure it didn’t spell anything inappropriate or odd. If the name passed all our tests, we’d send it to my sister-in-law hoping to make the monumental decision a little bit easier.

I’d nearly forgotten how both agonizing and exciting the name selection process was for my own two children. Tucked inside their baby books are lists of beautiful names that for several days or even months represented so much more than a name—they represented a future.

“I cannot wait for Natalie to be borned,” my fair-haired student, Morgan, would say every morning when she came to school and hugged my growing belly. I joked with my students that Natalie would be a very smart girl someday because she attended nine months of first grade before she was even born. Deep down, it wasn’t really a joke. I felt as if I could see her future, or at least envision grand possibilities, simply by saying her name.

Upon arrival, Natalie instantly lived up to her name. She had a full head of jet-black hair and was content and alert. Upon arriving home from the hospital, I made up a song using her name so we both could hear the beauty of her name over and over. Through her early years, Natalie’s name remained a sacred word spoken with immense love and care.

But somewhere along the line, that changed.

[Read more…]

The 3-Second Pause That Can Save a Morning & Spare Some Pain

"What becomes available to us when we greet one another as fully human?
" - Margaret Wheatley

“What becomes available to us when we greet one another as fully human?
”
- Margaret Wheatley

 

I wish I hadn’t taken my husband’s coffee pot and smashed it in the sink. I knew it the moment I steadied my shaking hands against the metal basin filled with jagged slivers of glass.

Regret hurts.

I wish I hadn’t peeled out of the gravel parking lot simply because things weren’t going according to plan. I knew it the moment my baby in the backseat began to cry.

Regret burns.

I wish I hadn’t run through the pouring rain, cussing and screaming about not being able to find my vehicle in a lot of thousands. I knew it the moment my daughter looked up at me with fearful eyes and asked if I was okay.

Regret aches.

I could go on. My list of overreactions is long, and it is shameful. I’d always liked to have things go just right, but during my highly distracted, stretched-too-thin, over-committed and under-rested years, overreaction became my middle name. And regret was right there beside it. Regret follows on the heels of overreaction every single time.

These unbecoming incidents—the coffee pot, the gravel-spitting tires, and the parking lot confusion—have resurfaced in my mind lately. Although they happened years ago, I can remember them clearly now, more clearly than ever.

I remember being so upset that I was unable to think straight. I remember coming so undone that I couldn’t get myself back together. I remember detesting myself in those moments. I remember wanting to run away. But most of all, I remember not wanting to be that person anymore. Regret can be a powerful motivator.

How did I begin to choose calm over crazed, reasonable over senseless, composed over fuming? One of my strategies was making a conscious effort to spot the “flowers” instead of the “weeds” in situations and in people. Another tactic was adopting a mantra to silence my inner bully. Whenever a critical thought came to mind, I immediately interrupted it with the phrase, “Only Love Today”. Another tactic was to envision my angry words like a car crash, inflicting damage to the person on the receiving end. But it wasn’t until one week ago, after thinking about several embarrassing outbursts from my past, that I realized there is something else I do. I give myself a 3-second preview of how a situation could play out if I choose controlling hostility over peaceful compassion.

[Read more…]