If 2014 Tried You or Tested You, Do This

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“This is not the end of me,
This is the beginning.
Hold on.
I am still alive.”
-Christina Perri
I Believe, 2013

He was a new friend of mine. We had a class together, hung out at a few parties, and I’d helped him on a paper at the campus computer lab. So when he asked me to go out with some of his friends late one night, I thought, ‘Why not?’ It would be fun to hang out with a different crowd than usual.

We played pool at a downtown pub for a few hours, and then headed back to campus. We’d just entered the mile-long entrance to the college when the unexpected happened. The driver of the vehicle announced he would be turning off the headlights “for fun.”

Even in the light of day this particular road was quite difficult to maneuver. I’d always chosen the back entrance due to this particular road’s narrow shoulder and dangerous curves.

I could feel the car escalating to a higher elevation with every sharp bend. Although I could not see the drop off that plummeted into a deep ravine, I knew it was there. One wrong turn of the wheel would change everything.

I desperately wanted say, “Okay man, that’s enough,” or “C’mon, turn the lights back on,” but I could not speak. I was paralyzed in the backseat, gripping the door handle so tightly that it felt like my fingernails were bleeding. As the wind blew my hair back with a powerful force, it dawned on me that my window was open. That’s the moment I began plotting and planning my survival.

I decided that if the driver would take the curve too fast and lose control, I would jump out the open window. Then I would hang onto the edge of that steep incline with all my strength. I imagined myself being discovered at daybreak by my favorite English professor heading to her office to start her day. There I would be, hanging on, my fingernails filled with dirt.

As the driver continued swerving this way and that way into pitch-black nothingness, I prayerfully repeated my plan: Jump. Hang on. Dig your nails into the earth and don’t let go. Don’t let go. It is not your time to go.

Over the past six months, I’ve thought more about that terrifying ride than I ever have in my life. That dark, windy road has been working its way into my dreams. Several life stressors this fall have left me feeling anxious, frustrated, disheartened, and confused. When I fall asleep thinking about a particular worry, those are the nights the road comes into play. Interestingly, this recurring dream is not a nightmare. Nor is it a good dream with a happy ending. In fact, there is no ending. I always wake up before it is over, but one thing is for certain: I always feel comforted by it.

I can feel the dirt under my nails.

I can feel myself hanging on for dear life.

The fears I face don’t seem so bad the morning after I’ve been on that dark, windy road and survived to tell about it.

A few weeks ago I noticed that a writer friend of mine was going through a string of unfortunate events. When I reached out to her, she confided in me that in addition to the personal issues her family was facing, she’d received several rejection letters in regard to her recently completed novel. As I was about to express my support and concern, she added that whenever she got the rejection notices, she said something to herself that renewed her hope.

It was these two words: “Rachel believes.”

Little did I know that by declaring myself this woman’s #1 fan the first time I read her writing and consistently supporting her endeavors, I would one day enable her to hang on when she found herself wondering if she should give up.

It was not her time to go. I had the ability to remind her of that. I had the ability to point out the dirt beneath her fingernails that she might’ve otherwise missed. I had the ability to remind her that she was strong … talented … and the world needed her words.

And so I have. And my friend continues to send out query letters until she receives one yes. After all, one yes is all she needs. My friend and I have already talked about how we will celebrate her determination … her tenacity … her ability to hang on.

if 2014 tried you & tested you HFM
But this story does not end here. Due to the providential timing of this message coming from my fingertips, I am certain this message is meant to be expanded to include others.

Because 2014 was hard for many, many people.

For you, it might be going down as one of the worst years you can remember.

For you, it may have brought you to your knees more times than you could count.

For you, it may have left you breathless … hopeless … tired and weary.

But before you eagerly slam the door on 2014, I ask you to look down at your hands.

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See that dirt under your fingernails?

My friend, that is beautiful. That is remarkable. That is significant.

You could have let go. But you didn’t.

You could have given up. But you didn’t.

You hung on.

You hung on.

And here’s what I believe:

I believe 2014 was not your worst year, but possibly your greatest.

Your Year of Greatest Strength
Your Year of Greatest Faith
Your Year of Greatest Hope
Your Year of Greatest Patience
Your Year of Greatest Risk
Your Year of Greatest Determination
Your Year of Greatest Courage

Just look at that dirt beneath your fingernails.

That is what you are made of.

Isn’t it beautiful? Isn’t it remarkable? Isn’t it significant?

It was your Year of Greatest Survival.

And you lived to tell about it.

Thank you for holding on.

Let us celebrate.

Let us celebrate.

The light overcame the darkness.

if 2014 tried you & tested you HFM*****************************************

As I wrote this piece, a dozen faces came to mind. Several dear friends of mine have survived a very tough year. I am going to share this piece with them to let them know I see how much they have overcome. If you know someone who has hung on triumphantly, I’d be grateful if you shared this post.

In the spirit of celebration, there is FREE domestic shipping on all the beautiful items in the Hands Free Shop today through Friday, December 19. Use this discount code: HOLIDAYFREESHIP. International orders can use the code for a discount on their shipping costs. Also, the super comfy & stylish LIVE HANDS FREE vintage t-shirts are reduced to $10 during this same time period. Domestic orders placed before Saturday, December 20 are expected to arrive by December 24th, but cannot be guaranteed. I’d be honored if you considered the prints or the bracelets as gifts to express your love & appreciation or to use as visual reminders for how you want to live in 2015.

 *VERY IMPORTANT follow-up to last week’s post: The Manager in My Home & the Five Words that Changed Everything has reached over 4 million people because of your willingness to share a message of hope & healing! I have received many courageous messages asking for further guidance. My dear colleague Sandy Blackard, who is an award-winning author and parenting coach, is helping me respond to these messages and has provided insightful answers to some of the questions posed in the comment section of the blog post. Sandy has condensed all her responses into one succinct blog post. If you would like to make sure things get done on time without rushing or over-managing your children OR if you are yearning to put perfectionism aside and provide guidance without criticism or negative correction, read these seven tips: “On Time with Empowered Children”

 Thank you, friends of The Hands Free Revolution, for being part of this incredibly supportive community seeking to let go of distraction & perfection to live more & love more today! You are my daily blessing.

The Manager in My Home & the Five Words that Changed Everything

manager 1 HFM

Every couple of weeks I patiently untangle the knots of strawberry-blonde hair that sit at the base of my child’s neck. As I sat on the corner of the tub the other night gently loosening an especially stubborn clump while my daughter chattered about her day, I couldn’t stop the tears.

Those wet tangles I held in my hand were tangible signs of progress—tangible proof that letting go can happen even in the most problematic hearts. My wish is that by sharing where I once was and where I am now, others will feel hope they didn’t feel in awhile. Perhaps by reading about my messy, tangles of progress, others will see their own. This is my story …

There was a time in my life when I barked orders more often than I spoke words of love … when I reacted to small everyday inconveniences as if they were major catastrophes … when normal human habits and quirks raised my blood pressure to dangerous levels.

Rather than nurturing my family members, I took it upon myself to manage my family members until there was no room to bend or breathe.

My artistic, busybody, dream-chasing older daughter’s desire to create multiple projects at once, try new recipes, and keep towering stacks of books and magazines by her bedside received disapproving looks on a daily basis.

My stop-and-smell-the-roses younger daughter’s desire to buckle stuffed animals before we departed, accessorize every part of her body before walking out the door, and move at a snail’s pace drew exasperated breaths and annoyed frowns.

My fun-loving, laidback husband’s spontaneous approach to weekend plans and ability to totally chill out got the silent treatment more times that I could count.

The people I was supposed to love unconditionally possessed qualities that irritated, annoyed, and continually derailed my carefully planned agenda—an agenda that was all about efficiency, perfection, and control.

I was not acting as a mother or a wife or even a decent human being. I was acting as a surly manager who was intent on creating a toxic environment—a place where it was pretty hard to show up each and every day.

How do I know?

Because even I could barely stand myself. The impatient person I’d become woke up angry and irritated as I braced myself for another day of managing the unmanageable. Forget about living. Forget about smiling. Forget about counting the blessings. The Grumpy Manager didn’t do that. And everyone in the home began following suit.

[Read more…]

No Moving Target December

No Moving Target December HFM

There are times when I become a moving target. This time of year is typically one of those times.

When there is always one more thing I could get done …

When the calendar severely lacks open white spaces …

When the hustle and bustle overtake the peaceful silences …

When decorating, wrapping, cleaning, and shopping take priority over smiling, laughing, breathing, and memory making …

When my goal becomes surviving each day rather than living each day …

When my line of vision looks past the people and only sees the duties …

When I don’t have time to point in wonder or pause in gratitude

When my day is so packed that my blessings get covered up …

covered up HFM

The circumstances described above result in me becoming a moving target. And if you know anything about moving targets, they are difficult to reach—even by those with the best intentions. I know because this is how I used to live: Always busy doing … existing in perpetual planning mode … always looking ahead to what was next on the agenda.

The ones who loved me had a hard time reaching me.

So I missed out on the love. I missed out on the greatest part of living: To love and be loved.

Granted, I didn’t know what I was missing at the time, but I do now. And I use this priceless awareness whenever I feel myself slipping back into old ways, like in the month of December when there is more of everything—more stress, more pressure, more commitments, more expectations, more invitations, more temptations, and more distractions.

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Live More, Love More Thanksgiving Recipe

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For every exasperated breath, let there be two minutes of uncontrollable laughter.

For every impatient “hurry up,” let there be one leisurely “take your time.”

For every worry about the condition of your home, let there be a friend who reminds you that your décor is not why you are loved.

For every grudge you’ve been holding, let there be one act of forgiveness.

act of forgiveness HFM

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For every complaint, let there be gratitude for two blessings.

For every minute spent holding an electronic device, let there be ten minutes holding a deck of cards, a musical instrument, or someone else’s hand.

For every duty checked off the list, let there be a spontaneous dance party in the kitchen or a snowball fight in the backyard.

For every new item brought into the home, let there be one offering of time, talent, money, or gently used item to a heart in need.

giving away HFM

For every irritated thought towards a rude driver, let there be one smile offered to a stranger.

For every family squabble, let there be a group hug.

For every accidental spill, let there be an extra serving of grace.

For every moment spent ridiculing your body, let there be one praise for arms that carry the weight, no matter how heavy.

heart inside you HFM

For every moment you give the gift of yourself to the ones you love, let there be a memory that lasts beyond your lifetime.

With open hands, open eyes, and an open heart, this holiday can be different than in year’s past.

Because now you know this day doesn’t have to be perfect—not even close.

This day is not about basting the perfect turkey … or getting the flawless family photo … or polishing the floors until they shine. This day is about gathering together with our messy, flawed human hearts in an effort to make happy memories that will outlive us all.

open hands, open eyes

Whether you follow this recipe to a T or simply pick and choose the ingredients that work for you, there will be a noticeable difference.

For the first time in a long time, you will lay your head on the pillow at night and you will not replay that family spat … you will not wonder what you could have done to improve the cranberry sauce … your feet will not be throbbing because you never sat down.

Oh no, this time it will be different.

Because now you know you must let go of what doesn’t matter in order to grasp what does matter.

hug HFM

For the first time in a long time, you will lay your head on the pillow and say, “Today I tasted the sweetest part of life.”

And that messy, flawed heart beating inside you will feel peacefully and imperfectly full.

In order to grasp what matters most, we must let go of what doesn’t. Thank goodness, it’s never too late to try this life-changing recipe to taste the sweetest part of life.

last pic HFM

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My friends, holidays can be stressful. And for some of you, this particular holiday season is especially hard. Someone is missing. Circumstances have changed. Stress is high. But goodness is still here. As long as you are still breathing, goodness is still here. Using this recipe will increase your chances of experiencing these moments of goodness. Feel free to modify the recipe according to your circumstances. Even small efforts to show up “as is” and love “as is” can make a noticeable difference. Please share your stories, struggles, and plans to let go and live this holiday. Every time you comment, someone else feels a little less alone.

My friends, I am thankful for you. Words cannot express how grateful I am for your companionship on this journey … for loving me “as is”… and for encouraging my writer’s heart with your loving affirmations. May the sweetest aspect of life—to love and be loved—be experienced by you and your family this holiday season.

*The blog and The Hands Free Revolution page will be quiet for the remainder of the week as I spend time investing in what matters most. While I am away, be sure and check out Rebecca Eanes’ enlightening and supportive page, Positive Parenting: Toddlers and Beyond. Rebecca is celebrating “a quarter of a million strong” community by having four days of giveaways of positive parenting books and resources. Included in the celebration are a Hands Free leather bracelet and a copy of my New York Times Bestseller, Hands Free Mama. I am grateful for Rebecca and the important work she does to help parents connect to their children! 

 

Rude Reactions, Angry Outbursts, & Ladders that Lift

conditions of the heart

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
-Plato

I tried to get the attention of my daughters but they were intently focused on their pre-swim meet warm up. I decided that if I hurried, I could get to my car to retrieve what I’d forgotten before their warm up concluded.

Although I was parked at the back of a mile-long parking lot, I walked quickly and was back to the front the door of the natatorium in less than seven minutes. I was heading through the double doors that led into the pool area when a stern voice stopped me in my tracks.

“Timers, that way!” an older gentleman in an official uniform was barking orders at me. Even his finger, which stiffly pointed to a dark equipment room off to the side, appeared angry. It was as if I was a child being sent to my room for misbehaving. I was speechless … and unmoving.

The man jabbed his finger angrily once more in the direction he wanted me to go. His face had now become a dangerous color of red. I was in complete disbelief. All this over my entry through a door? Seriously?

“I am not a timer,” I said calmly to the man, attempting to model a normal speaking voice. “I am a parent who is trying to get to her children.” I then proceeded to walk through the doors I intended to go in the first place.

But yet again, I was blocked. The man’s entire hand was now in front of me. “THAT WAY!” he screamed pointing back to the dreary equipment room that clearly didn’t look like a pathway to the pool to me.

Upon further inspection, I saw a steady stream of parents and meet officials heading that way. I surmised that the main pool door had been closed to walk-through traffic when I ran out to my car. But how was I to know? There were no signs, no yellow tape, and no caution cones – only this not-so-jolly navigator who wasn’t doing anything to enlighten me.

I began walking in the direction the man desperately wanted me to go, but then I stopped. I turned back around, looked him straight in the eye and said, “Why do you have to be so rude?”

I was not expecting an answer, but I got one.

“I fell off a ladder yesterday,” the man said irritably, his angry tone still alive and well.

I stood there for a moment looking at this man … this man who didn’t want to be there … this man who was in pain … this man who was perhaps fed up with life and feeble bones.

And that is when I realized this man’s anger had nothing to do with me.

[Read more…]

To Build (or Crush) a Dream

dreamer #HFM
There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly. -R. Buckminster Fuller

When I get in front of a classroom of children, I am home. I was a special education teacher for ten years before I became a full-time author and speaker. On occasion, my two passions—writing and teaching children—collide. I go into these situations on high alert. If there is ever a time to pay very close attention, it is in a classroom. Because if I do, I know I will be the one to walk away educated and inspired.

Recently I had the opportunity to speak at my daughters’ new school. I was prepared to be enlightened. I was not disappointed.

This is my story …

My presentation for both second and fifth graders consisted of two parts. The first part described the steps I took to achieve my childhood dream of becoming a published author. The second part of my presentation was a lesson and group exercise on descriptive writing.

As I spoke to the children, my teacher training quickly spotted the ones who were having trouble sitting still … the ones who were weary to raise their hands but clearly had something to say … the ones who were fiddling with something inside their desk, perhaps thinking of their own passions. I tried to draw the children out, sustain their attention, and create a safe environment where all ideas were accepted and respected. When it was time for the students to craft their own sentences, I was pleased that most of them looked comfortable and engaged.

As the students worked quietly, I was able to interact individually with each one. Their unique personalities surfaced during these brief exchanges—their comments and posture revealing details about their life experiences, their confidence, and their strengths.

As I was preparing to leave the fifth grade classroom, a boy asked for my autograph. This idea started a trend. As the children lined up with blank notebook paper in hand, I felt compelled to write more than my name or “Live Hands Free.” In black Sharpie I wrote, “Go after your dreams!” Then I paused and asked each child, “What is your dream?”

Every single child had an answer.
There were no hesitations.
There were no duplications.

Every single child, no matter how reserved or how outgoing … no matter how serious or how silly … no matter how neat or disheveled, had a dream. And more importantly, every child had a twinkle in the eye when speaking about it.

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Drowning Out the Inner Critic

drowing the inner critic HFM
She’d asked me to get in the bathroom stall with her while she put on the swim team suit that she’d been given to wear to the meet. I hesitated. The stall was exceptionally small and the air conditioning in the building was not working. But there was a pleading in my child’s eyes that seemed hauntingly familiar so I accompanied her.

She immediately asked me to turn away. I crammed myself into the corner. The bathroom door hinge was two inches from my nose. I was already sweating and I was not the one wrestling with a fierce duo of nylon and spandex.

I had a bad feeling about this.

Behind me there was grunting, wiggling, pulling, stretching. There was a tremendous amount of exhausting effort going on back there. I could feel the frustration radiating from my child through the back of my shirt. Or maybe it was sweat.

“Everything okay?” I asked with a cringe.

“I.Can’t.Get.It.On!” my child burst out.

“Would you like me to help?” I asked hopefully. “I’d be happy to help,” I repeated desperately hoping to improve the situation.

After a few more grunts and sighs, my child accepted my offer.

“But close your eyes, Mama,” she instructed.

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Preparing the Ones We Love For a Troubling World

preparing for world #HFM

My older daughter was sitting on the floor of her room totally engrossed in a project. She was writing to her sponsored child, Priscilla, but I didn’t know what she was writing because it was written in Swahili.

The last letter she sent was also written in Priscilla’s native language, but I thought it would be a one-time thing. I was surprised to see my typically speedy child patiently looking up words on the Internet in order to write full sentences in a foreign language. She knew all notes written in English were translated to the sponsored child, but for some reason she felt compelled to write in words Priscilla could read and understand herself.

“I see you’re writing in Swahili again,” I said sitting down next to my daughter.

“I want to be sure she knows she is loved … in words she can understand,” my daughter explained. “There are many diseases in and around her village,” she said gravely. “This way Priscilla can read the letter herself and won’t have to wait for a translator.”

That powerful little tidbit shed some light on my daughter’s motive.

“I want these words to stick,” my child added determinedly.

Like a bulletin board, I thought to myself looking at the corkboard directly behind my daughter’s head. It was filled with photos, motivational quotes, swim team goals, and love notes from family members. It was filled with words and images she wanted remember—treasures she wanted to stick with her.

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The Hands Free Revolution page was hacked, but now the issue is resolved

light will outshine darkness

UPDATE:  Over the last 24 hours my page was taken over by hackers, and I was shut out as the page administrator unable to do anything to stop them. This amazing community came to aid and my defense in a way that I will never forget. Thank you for knowing my heart would never willingly allow this to happen and post the horrific things that were seen here. Thank you for reporting the images to Facebook and for sharing my blog post asking for help to get my page back. This community, as well as many fellow bloggers and personal friends stepped up to show these sabotagers that GOODNESS prevails. While I hope that my administrator status is back for good, please know that if you see anything out of the ordinary from what I normally post, please report the vile content see the steps outlined at the bottom of this post.

I hope to get back to my regular schedule of positivity and hope tomorrow on The Hands Free Revolution FB page. You are the most wonderful community and I am blessed to walk the Hands Free journey with you. Let us continue to focus on the good.

“I’ve always believed the light can outshine the darkness.
I’ve always believed that goodness will prevail.
But sometimes in the face of adversity, a need a little reminding.
Thank you for reminding me.
I shall not ever forget.”
-Rachel Macy Stafford

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Original post:

My friends, I have been locked out as administrator of The Hands Free Revolution Facebook page. The hackers have been posting vile and offensive material. I am deeply sorry if you have been subjected to this in your newsfeed on Facebook. You can help me GREATLY by doing one or both of the following to report the problem:

1. Click this link and report that The Hands Free Revolution page has been hacked.

2. Go to the page and hover over the top right corner of the offensive post for the drop down carrot to show
then click on “I don’t like this post”
A pop up will come up – click on: “It’s Spam”
On the next window click on: “Their account is hacked”
That will report it.

I am so grateful to all of you who have written to me personally to let me know about the situation. Thank you for standing by me as I try to regain control of my Facebook fan page so I can continue spreading messages of positivity and hope!

A Daily Goal with Life-Changing Results

I hope after spending an hour … a day … a lifetime in my presence, I leave your heart fuller, your smile wider, your spirit stronger your future brighter than you could have ever imagined by yourself.   -Rachel Macy Stafford

I hope after spending an hour … a day … a lifetime in my presence,
I leave your heart fuller,
your smile wider,
your spirit stronger
your future brighter
than you could have ever imagined by yourself.
-Rachel Macy Stafford

*name & story have been used with permission

A little over four years ago I started my Hands Free journey to let go of distraction and grasp the moments that mattered. It became my daily practice to write down the little moments of meaningful connection that I would’ve missed had I remained tethered to my devices, pressures, and regrets. What I experienced during my designated Hands Free pockets of time was so powerful I knew it was meant to be shared. I started publishing my daily Hands Free successes and failures on a blog. This helped me stay accountable to my goal—to live more and love more in the precious time that I’d been given. But there was more. My willingness to share my story was unexpectedly reciprocated. Each day for the past four years, I’ve heard from people I do not know. But they tell me their stories and inspire me in ways I could not be inspired alone.

Recently I opened my inbox to this:

“I have you to thank for the light bulb that lit up inside of me that turned into a flaming inferno of wanting to connect with my children. I have you to thank for the belly laugh (the best laugh that I have had with my oldest in years) that I would have missed had I not been in a ‘Hands Free Zone’ that I’ve designated and stuck to. I have you to thank for the wall in my kitchen (which is against my obsessive compulsive nature) that I have posted blog entries and favorite quotes from your book. This wall is what I look at when my baby is crying so loudly that I want to rip my hair out—your words are the caution cones that tell me to slow down and embrace my screaming baby and laugh. I have you to thank for my life, my children’s lives, and the amazing mom that I never knew I could become to them. I have you to thank for raising me from the dead; for that I will be eternally grateful. Thank you for saving me.”

–Fallon*

This message was written by a single, full-time working student/mother. I could see her in her kitchen. Her eyes weary from lack of sleep … baby food stains on the front of her shirt … her older child’s homework splayed across the counter along with bills and school reminder notes. I could see her trying … trying … trying. I did not know this woman, but I adored her.

Attached to the e-mail message was Fallon’s completed assignment for her psychology class. It was a short description of her fall semester goal: Keep Things Simple. To her this meant trying to avoid “overwhelm” which she knew had a negative impact on her mood, her progress, her sleep and of course, her children. “Keep Things Simple means not sweating the small stuff, getting tasks completed in a timely manner, not over exaggerating, and eliminating unnecessary stress to enjoy my life to the fullest,” she wrote.

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