Making Your Loudest Voice Calmer & Your Truest Voice Stronger

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

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

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

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

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

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

It hasn’t always been that way.

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

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

At my loudest, I was heard the least.

At my loudest, I felt the most pain.

At my loudest, I caused the most hurt.

At my loudest, my voice was most voiceless.

In those agonizing moments after my tearful, over-the-top meltdown, I’d frantically rummage through the junk drawer looking for my car keys. I needed to get away—far, far away.

One night I made it all the way out to the car. I was in my pajamas and my skin felt cold against the leather seats. I was shivering as my barefoot stepped on the gas pedal.

But I could not leave.

I went back inside to get my children. I gathered them up, one in each arm. I remember how they cried in confusion and fear. I made it to the door and realized I could not leave without my husband either. And I could not leave without my beloved calico cat, Callie. I could not leave my people.

Something needed to change.

I needed to find my voice—my truest voice—the one that could be heard … felt … and understood.

Back in college, I took a poetry class. I thought it would be an easy A, not requiring too much time and effort on my part. The professor gave us a notebook and said we could write about anything we wanted because it would never be seen by anyone but her. She encouraged us to describe our deepest fears … to recount our most horrible memories … to share our darkest secrets. Writing in that notebook offered a freedom I’d never known. With each entry bringing clarity, redemption, peace, and self-discovery, I looked forward to writing in it each day.

About mid-way through the semester, students were required to turn in their notebooks for review. In mine, the professor wrote: “You have a powerful voice, Rachel.”

What hadn’t dawned on me as a sophomore in college, dawned on me over a decade later when I most needed this powerful revelation: When I spoke my greatest fears, offered my most difficult truths, and shed light on my darkest thoughts was when I felt the most heard.

It was then that I knew how I could find my truest voice again. I bought a notebook that very day—just like the one I used in my college class. And since that day, I’ve filled an entire plastic bin with notebooks—releasing trapped emotions, letting go of suppressed memories, and liberating shameful thoughts with every line. Through these pages, my loudest voice got quieter and my truest voice got stronger. Through these pages, I felt heard by something far greater than myself; I felt guided by the One who could offer me true peace and fulfillment.

DSC_0122Five years and nearly fifty filled notebooks later, I have made significant progress. Don’t get me wrong, I still cry sometimes. I cry when I am sad. I cry when I am homesick. I cry when I am exhausted. I even cry when I get angry every once in awhile. But most of the time, I cry when I am happy. Because that is when gratitude seizes me by the throat and makes me feel thankful for my truest voice—the one that allows me to be heard … felt … and understood by the people who share my life.

The other night, as I tucked younger daughter in bed, she recounted the stressful events of the previous night. For several hours, we could not find Banjo the cat anywhere. We assumed he got outside and was somewhere in the dense woods behind our house. My husband had tucked my daughter in bed as I searched.

“Did you cry when you were looking for Banjo?” my daughter asked unexpectedly.

“No. Why?” I asked.

“I could hear you calling and calling for him when I was trying to go to sleep.”

I swallowed the lump in my throat. “Were you crying?” I asked her.

“No,” my child said. “Because we have a family code, you know.”

I did not know.

“It’s: No Family Member Left Behind,” she explained.

“Did you come up with that yourself?” I asked stunned.

“Yes. In our family, we would never leave without each other. You’d never leave without me.”

voiceless 2And now it was my turn to tell her something she didn’t know. “I didn’t cry when I was looking for Banjo, but I cried when your sister found him trapped in the utility room because I was so happy.”

She smiled as if that confession coming from me made perfect sense.

As warm tears filled my eyes yet again, I realized that sometimes we all lose our voice, but we must fight to get it back … so our family can hear us calling … so our family can hear us cheering … so our family can hear us living our best selves.

Whether it’s through a notebook, an easel, or the lens of a camera,
Whether it’s through dancing, singing, cooking, or meditating on a rubber mat,
Whether it’s through running, walking, or crawling, if that is all you can manage,
Find your voice—your truest voice.

It speaks fears.
It speaks truths.
It speaks hopes.
It speaks desires.
It speaks dreams.
It speaks love.

Unlike the voice that barks empty threats and sweeping generalizations, your truest voice can be heard.

Unlike the voice that spews sarcasm, accusations, and defensiveness, your truest voice feels like peace when it is spoken.

Unlike the voice that hurls insults and patronizing words, your truest voice won’t drive you farther and farther away from the people you love.

Your truest voice brings you closer—
closer to the person you want to be
closer to the life you want to live
closer to tears of happiness …

May they fall like rain.

fall like rain 2

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Resources: If you would like to know what specific steps and strategies I used to transform my distracted, overwhelmed life, they are detailed in my NYT bestselling book Hands Free Mama. In addition, the book Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling & Start Connecting by Dr. Laura Markham is my number #1 recommendation to anyone yearning to respond more peacefully and positively in times of frustration and challenge. Dr. Laura’s second book, Peaceful Parent: Happy Siblings: How to Stop the Fighting & Raise Friends For Life, comes out next week, and it is just as life changing as the first! Click here to learn more or to pre-order. Dr. Laura recently allowed me to ask several questions about improving sibling relationships and creating a more loving home environment. Our discussion tied in beautifully with my new book, Hands Free Life: 9 Habits for Overcoming Distraction, Living Better, & Loving More now available for pre-order. Please enjoy listening to our open-hearted discussion by clicking the play button below.

*One final note: a NEW reminder bracelet is here! Inspired by the Choose Love 21-Day Challenge & your many requests, the “I Choose Love” bracelet has been added to the Hands Free Shop and the color is perfect for spring! Use the code: MOM2015 for free shipping on domestic & international orders until May 1. This applies to all the items in the shop! (Delivery could take up to two weeks.) choose love 1

The One Question That Can Also Be an Answer

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

My sister was not talking about the fishing nets.

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

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

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

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

A State Where You Can Thrive & Your People Can Breathe

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

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

Let me explain …

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

From a state of calm … to a state of impatience

From a state of caring … to a state of apathy

From a state of presence … to a state of distraction

From a state of hope … to a state of despair

From a state of joy … to a state of infuriation

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

I know. I remember.

[Read more…]

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…]