That Moment When Your Flaws & Failings Don’t Matter

eyes HFMI see the whole world in your eyes
It’s like I’ve known you all my life
We just feel so right
So I pour my heart into your hands
It’s like you really understand
You love the way I am.”
-Rachel Platten, Better Place

On Monday night, my nine-year-old daughter announced she was going to practice one last time for the upcoming third grade talent show. The following day, she’d be performing “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten, which we both knew would be crowd pleaser among her young classmates.

As she began to play, I closed my eyes, imagining for a moment what the children’s faces would look like as she began to strum and sing. Most of her classmates had never heard this girl sing, let alone play guitar. As she shared her musical gift in that spotlight moment, I knew it would be hard for her to contain her smile.

But I would not know for sure because I would not be there to witness it.

“Parents aren’t allow to come to the third grade talent show, Mom,” she’d said matter-of-factly two weeks ago, breaking my heart right in half.

“What? You must be mistaken,” I said feeling inappropriately emotional about this news.

“Nope. No parents. It’s just for kids,” she said doing nothing to soften the blow … that is, until she saw the look on my face. Patting my hand gently, she said, “Don’t worry, Mom. I’ll be fine.”

I knew she would be fine. I’d watched her confidence blossom over the past year. I knew she would take the stage by storm. Selfishly, I wanted to be there to see it. Standing in an auditorium or classroom with shining eyes as my child reads a story she wrote, recites a line in a play, or sings alone or with a group, is my moment of redemption. My child scans the crowd until she finds me, and I look at her with all the love in my heart. In that moment, guilt cannot touch me. Regret leaves the premises. Mistakes of the past completely vanish. All that’s left is proof I have loved; it is written all over her face.

Three years ago I grasped this redemptive gift for the very first time. I immediately knew it was not exclusive to me, nor was it mine to keep. So I wrote it down. Today, it is yours … word for word. May these words be the reminder you need this very moment. May your flaws and failings fall away so all you are left with is hope …

last pic HFM

On very rare occasions, I find myself alone in the car with my six-year-old daughter. When I do, I try to stay extra quiet to see what gems my Noticer of Life child might feel like spilling out to the headrest in front of her.

On this particular day, we’d just dropped off her playmate. The setting sun was illuminating her tangled curls and freckled face as she gazed out the window with sleepy eyes.

Suddenly she perked up. “Could you play, ‘Daylight’ by Maroon 5?” she asked, sounding more like a sixteen-year-old than a six-year-old. “It’s my favorite song,” she added as if she knew her request might require some explanation.

She was right. Coming from her, it did strike me as an odd song request. For the past three years, my cheerful, little ukulele player had strummed and sang her way through the likes of Taylor Swift, Martina McBride, and Carly Rae Jepsen. Romantic ballads by heavily tattooed rock stars had never once come from this southern girl’s lips.

ukulele

But I pushed ‘play’ on “Daylight,” and ever since then, I have been able to breathe easier, even on the most challenging days as a parent.

You see, as Adam Levine belted out the following lyrics in his signature falsetto, my daughter’s face turned wistful, almost sad:

“And when the daylight comes, I’ll have to go
But tonight I’m gonna hold you so close.
Cause in the daylight, we’ll be on our own,
But tonight I need to hold you so close.”

My child noticed me watching her in the rearview mirror. As we locked eyes, it was solemnly revealed why this particular song was her favorite. “That song is about morning when I have to go to school,” she said pushing up her little eyeglasses so they sat squarely on her face. “I don’t like morning to come. I like night when you hold me in your arms.”

For a moment, I couldn’t speak. My child’s interpretation of this blatantly obvious love song surprised me. How could she get that meaning from those lyrics? I thought. But then I reminded myself that children make sense of the world using their experiences as a frame of reference. In that respect, her lyrical interpretation of “Daylight” made perfect sense.

The reason this song wasn’t about two lovers parting at daybreak was because my child hadn’t experienced that. But she did know what it felt like to be so safe and secure in someone’s arms that she never wanted to leave.

And that’s when it hit me.

Warm, cleansing tears dripped down my face as a profound sense of peace came over me.

For the first time in a long time, I felt I’d done something right along this parenting journey. The nightly tuck-in had become my child’s frame of reference.

It was the one thing I managed to do consistently for all six years of her life …

Through the baby years when piercing screams of colic, cutting teeth, sleep deprivation, and sibling jealousy hallowed me until I was empty … I still managed to hold her every night despite my exhaustion.

Through the toddler years when pajamas were itchy, getting out of bed was her fulltime job, and lost stuffed animals ensued atomic meltdowns … I still managed to smooth her hair every night despite my frustration.

Through her preschool years when I was present, but absent, focusing too much on electronic screens, to-do lists, and keeping up the façade of a perfect life … I still managed to kiss her face every night despite my maxed-out existence.

Through the daily struggles of life, I managed to reach my child’s bedside. For a few minutes each night, I’d hold her and say, “I love you,” so those could be the last words she heard, even if I failed to say them in syllables or actions during day.

facing fears handsfree mama

And through a catchy pop song on a Sunday afternoon drive, I learned this nightly ritual mattered; it mattered a lot. It was a beacon of light in a sea of failings, and I intended to grasp it.

Because let’s face it. We need this validation. We need to know we’re doing something right. We need to know things are going to turn out okay despite it all. We need to know love prevails over failures, flaws, and imperfect days.

Because sometimes the “experts,” the well-meaning friends, the sweet ladies behind us in the checkout line, and the critics inside our head suggest otherwise, making us feel like there is more to it than just loving them.

But then you attend an end-of-the-year school program. You see a child on stage scanning the crowd with eager, almost frantic, eyes. Then suddenly, her eyes stop. As she enthusiastically waves at a focal point in the crowd, a visible sigh of relief comes from her small chest. If you follow her gaze to see what brought her such great comfort, you will see love etched across the face of the person who met her gaze. That child found her reference point, her source of comfort, her go-to place in times of uncertainty and doubt—and it made all the difference.

I don’t care what anybody says. It’s the love that sustains them.

Whether she’s walking out on stage or out of a bad relationship …

Whether he’s stepping into kindergarten or into battle …

Whether he’s taking an honest look inward or a stand for what he believes in …

Whether she’s reaching up to grab her dream or reaching down to help the fallen …

When faced with the fears, uncertainties, and worries of life, our loved ones need a reference point—a place in their minds and hearts where they feel loved and safe. And we can provide that. My friends, we can provide that.

DSC_0633

So let’s not worry about doing all the things right in this lifetime; let’s just focus on doing one thing right in this day: a little love today.

Love them as they walk out the door.

Love them when they come home.

Love them when they mess up.

Love them when they succeed … soar … shine.

Love them when they’re scared.

Love them when they’re brave.

Love them as they pull away.

Love them as they cling with all their might.

Love them when they’re hard to love.

Love them when they’re utterly irresistible.

Choose love for your precious ones as much as you humanly can. May it become their reference point in a harsh world, like the lyrics to their favorite song that never quite leave their head or their heart.

Never stop doing #HFM
********************************

My friends of the Hands Free Revolution, thank you for the incredible support you provide my family & me each week. My daughter was thrilled that so many of you watched her “Fight Song” Youtube video and left such affirming comments on our community’s page. When I asked for all the details about the talent show on Tuesday, she said everyone clapped “really hard” and a boy came up to her and said, “Dude, you are like the next Taylor Swift … no, the next Ellie Goulding … no, the next Adele.” She was literally glowing! That sweet boy made her day and so did all of you!

Denver friends, I am still feeling the love you bestowed on me when I took the stage last Saturday. I am still crying from the standing ovation you gave me. I am still inspired by the scars you revealed when I met you in line. I was 1400 miles from home, yet you made me feel like I was home. Your timing was perfect as I’m currently working through the first round edits on my forthcoming book, ONLY LOVE TODAY. You have fueled me during this grueling process. Since many of you have inquired about me speaking in your cities, I thought I would clarify that I do not plan these events. I simply go where I am invited if the details align. The best way to get me to your city is to recommend me to a school, organization, company, or church that is looking for a speaker. They can fill out this speaking request form on my contact page, and I will be in touch. 

Thank you, dear ones, for being my writing fuel and my daily blessing. I love you dearly.

What’s Stronger Than a Tormentor

set it free

And I got this love in me.
But it’s not just mine to keep.
Like treasure that’s buried deep.
I come alive when I set it free.
—Judah & the Lion, Love in Me

My daughters and I have been volunteering at a cat shelter for several months now. I knew it would be painful to fall in love with cats we couldn’t take home with us. I knew it would be painful to not be able to rescue them all. But I felt certain that the joy of this experience would outweigh the pain.

I knew this, yet something caught me off guard.

It was an email message from the shelter director to all the volunteers about an obtrusive chain that would be added immediately to the already padlocked cages. Apparently someone was caught in the act of tormenting an animal. The helpless victim was Bob the cat—five-year-old Bob who is already severely depressed because his owner had to give him up. Bob who meows a lot but loves to be free from his cage so he can explore.

DSC_0018

The director’s email went on to list other cruel acts occurring over the past year in this small cat shelter housed in a local Petsmart. I tried to keep reading the email message, but when I got to the part about someone trying to pry a kitten out of the small opening at the bottom of the cage, I could not read anymore.

To be honest, I broke down.

I covered my face in my hands and cried. It may seem ridiculous to some, but my heart for animals is huge. My hope for the world in which my children and future grandchildren will live in is even bigger.

But not then.

Not in that moment.

Suddenly, things looked especially bleak.

[Read more…]

Breaking a Common Barrier to Better Myself & Expand My Child’s Future

 DSC_0643

“I didn’t know I was lonely ’til I saw your face.”
Bleachers, I Wanna Get Better

“Instead of riding the bus today, could we go to breakfast and then could you drop me off at school?” my almost thirteen-year-old daughter unexpectedly asked me on a recent Friday morning.

My Type-A, plan-happy brain initially resisted this spontaneous invitation. While my brain began to list the reasons I couldn’t, my eyes saw something else. Standing in front of me was a not-so-little girl in stylish tribal print pants that were just a little long for her small physique. They wouldn’t be too long forever, I knew. She would grow into them; it wouldn’t be long.

“Okay,” I said, suddenly grateful to have an hour alone with this beautiful, growing girl.

After having a nice visit over chicken biscuits, we ran into a nearby store for a piece of poster board. As we stood in the checkout line, a woman pulled her cart up behind us. Standing in the back was a little girl who appeared to be three or four years old.

“Mama, can I get out?” the little girl asked.

No response.

“Mama, can I get out?” she repeated—this time a little louder.

Still no response.

“Mama, please can I get out?” the child politely asked as the woman used her pointer finger to scroll down the screen of her phone, happily smiling to herself.

As the little girl continued to ask the same question, her left leg inched higher and higher over the grocery cart until it appeared she was going to get out herself. My daughter, sensing the little girl was about to fall, quickly stepped next to the cart, preparing to catch her.

The little girl looked at my daughter and put her leg back in the cart. She began asking the same question once again, in hopes her mother might respond to her pleas.

We hadn’t even made it to the car when I saw tears forming in my daughter’s eyes. As she shut the door, she quietly said, “That made me really sad.”

[Read more…]

Here, You Can Breathe … Here, You Are Enough

DSC_0091

Hold tight; you’re slowly coming back to life.
I’ll be keeping your head up.
Let go of all your haunted dreams tonight.
I’ll be keeping your head up.
Birdy

*name has been changed for privacy reasons

Six weeks ago, I was feeling unsteady, depleted, and far away from myself. I was finding it difficult to do my job … to respond or communicate … to do laundry … look presentable … and leave the house. I knew my fragility was a result of extending myself beyond reasonable limits and neglecting to give myself proper time and care after multiple surgeries and an intense book-writing period.

It went against every fiber of my conscientious, people-pleasing nature, but I began declining or flat out ignoring the many requests of my time and energy that kept pouring in despite my vow to create some breathing room. The world is not going to give me permission to stop; I reminded myself. I am the only one who can give myself a reprieve. I decided my family and my emotional wellbeing were going to be my focus during this restoration period I called ‘coming back to life’ … my life … as opposed to accepting a depleted life lived according to other people’s demands and expectations.

I knew it was no coincidence that around the same time I created breathing room to reconnect with my heart and the heart of my family, two volunteer opportunities fell into my lap. Even more convincing was they were on my daughters’ “wish list” when we moved to our new state almost two years ago. To be a volunteer at an animal shelter was Natalie’s wish. To “adopt a cute, elderly person” was Avery’s wish. In the busyness of life over the past two years, I’d nearly forgotten my daughters had once expressed the desire to have these particular opportunities.

And now here they were.

At the same time.

When I was trying to create breathing room.

As you can probably guess, my initial reaction to these opportunities was irritation. Really? I am having trouble getting my own cat’s liter box clean right now. How am I supposed to garner the energy to leave the house and clean twelve of them?

[Read more…]

Being Kindest to the Ones You’re Closest To

kindest

“We are love.
We are one.
We are how we treat each other when the day is done.
We are peace.
We are war.
We are how we treat each other and nothing more.”
–The Alternate Routes

Being an author can be a lonely occupation. But most of the time, my introverted self thrives in the solitude. I relish the control I have over work decisions and work environment. But there are times, particularly book deadlines times, when I’d do anything to have a colleague peek over the cubicle and say, “We’re in the home stretch! We got this!” or “You want to take the last few paragraphs of this section, and I’ll run with the conclusion?”

As I neared my recent book deadline, I felt the aloneness, the weight of it all, bearing down squarely on my shoulders. With this being my third book, it was possible most people assumed I had this in the bag. Rachel’s got this—most of my loyal supporters probably thought. But I didn’t. Instead of becoming more energized as I reached the finish line, I became more uncertain, more emotional, and more depleted. I knew I was going to drag myself across the finish line, and it wasn’t going to be pretty. I saw the red flags—the urge to speak in short, snippy responses … the lack of patience … the surplus of irritability. Sadly, my discontent was directed at one person—the person I am closest to … the person who loves me at my worst … the person who knows me better than anyone else.

My husband knew the book deadline was looming, but hadn’t noted the exact day it was due. In his mind, he was doing many things to support me during this intense and challenging time. But in my mind, I was alone in my cubicle. My team had deserted me. The momentous March 1st date starred and circled on my calendar for almost a year was just another day at my house. The team high-fives and clinking glasses I’d been hoping for didn’t happen. As you can guess, my fatigued, weary self did not communicate my disappointment to my husband very well.

The good news was there were no slamming doors or tearful meltdowns. There were no squealing tires or smashed coffee pots like the days of old. But there was a severe lack of perspective. I could only see the situation through my eyes. And because of my fragile state of aloneness, it was hard to let go of my disappointment and see it any other way.
[Read more…]

Your Role in a Loved One’s Struggle

DSC_0869

“Oh, why you look so sad?
Tears are in your eyes
Come on and come to me now.
Don’t be ashamed to cry
Let me see you through
’cause I’ve seen the dark side too.”
–The Pretenders

When we moved to a new state almost two years ago, I knew there would be challenging moments for my daughters, then eleven and eight years old. We’d gone from a school where they knew everyone to a school where they knew no one. Even swim team, which my older daughter excelled in for many years, was drastically different. She went from a family-friendly year-round program at the YMCA to a large, competitive program with the area’s most elite swimmers. I can vividly recall two moments during the first year in our new state when I saw my older daughter’s pain and wanted to spare her from it.

The first moment was when her beloved teacher abruptly left the classroom one day and never came back. For personal reasons, the teacher was not able to say goodbye to the students. I can still hear my daughter’s guttural cries wondering why her teacher left them.

The second moment was in the final championship of a divisional swim meet. Earlier that day, my daughter missed the cut off for finals by one spot in the 50-meter breaststroke event. We were informed that she could come back that evening as an alternate. This meant she’d warm up as if she was going to swim and report to the starting blocks when her event was called. When the first whistle sounded, she would quickly scan the blocks. If a block was empty, she was to quickly jump up on the block and swim the race.

Just the thought of this agonizing process made my palms sweat! As a cautious planner with the tendency to worry, I was surprised my daughter wanted to put herself in such an unpredictable situation. But she did. I’ll never forget standing next to her as her eyes frantically scanned the blocks, her hands clasped nervously in hopes of there being an empty spot.

When there wasn’t, I saw her shoulders fall. Her eyelids blinked in rapid succession as she fought back tears of disappointment.
[Read more…]

With Unsteady Hands, I Offer You This Invitation

DSC_0940

“Hold, hold on, hold onto me
‘Cause I’m a little unsteady
A little unsteady.”

X Ambassadors

*Name has been changed for privacy reasons

When it feels too dark to rise, but you gotta get up anyway.

When certain songs make you cry, but you gotta be strong.

When you’re lost and can’t seem to find your way.

When you’re expected to speak but can’t find the words.

When you’re supposed to know what’s next, but you haven’t a clue.

When you try to fall back on what you know, and even that feels unfamiliar.

When you have no idea what the future holds, but people keep asking.

What do you do?

Where do you go from there?

These are the first words of prose I’ve written in seventeen days. They are incomplete. I know. But something important happened since I last wrote to you. And when I think about who I am writing to, I don’t worry so much about what is incomplete. I know you will fill in the blanks and together—together—we will make sense of things.

As I mentioned above, I have not written for seventeen days. This is uncommon for me. Unheard of, really. And a little disconcerting. I’d planned on taking a few days to rest my weary brain after I submitted my third book to my publisher on March 1st. But a few days of respite quickly turned into a week. And even after a week, I couldn’t make sense of the scribbles in my little notebooks that normally become complete sentences and lovely paragraphs in no time.

It felt confusing and scary to not be able to do what comes naturally to me.

I was reminded of how I felt after surgery when I was expected to get up and walk for the first time. My legs didn’t feel like they remembered what to do. They felt weak, uncertain, and unstable.

“Hold on to me,” my nurse instructed. I was afraid I was going to fall, but I held on. I held on with dear life. I begged my legs not to fail me as I stepped away from the security of the bed.

[Read more…]

Your Most Important Role, In Case Someone Forgets

soul changerYou give me life
Life, my dear
You give me strength to beat the odds
And overcome my fears
You make me feel like I belong under the sun.”
—Citizen Cope

It was still early in our relationship when my then-boyfriend (who is now my husband) asked me to accompany him on a two-hour drive to go to a job interview.

Why would a smart, confident guy with so many positive attributes want me to go with him to his job interview? I wondered skeptically.

In my delay to respond, Scott must have sensed the need to explain. What he said shocked me. “I believe in myself more when you’re with me. You remind me of all that I am.”

Really?

I racked my brain wondering what I’d done to evoke this type of strength within him. I immediately thought of the few times we’d studied together and how, as a budding teacher, I always tried to be positive and encouraging. At one point, Scott admitted a few things he was nervous about, including his biggest worry—that he’d have trouble getting a job after college. I simply reminded him of the glowing accolades said about him by former professors, employers, and coaches.

“You will have more than one job offer. Trust me,” I’d say confidently, knowing the voice of doubt could be loud in times of uncertainty—even for the strongest people.

I ended up taking that two-hour drive with Scott. I can’t even remember if he got the job; I only remember the look of gratitude on his face when he dropped me off, saying he would have been way more nervous if he’d gone alone. All I’d done was simply remind him of what he already knew—the good stuff we tend to forget about ourselves in times of doubt, stress, uncertainty, and fear.

[Read more…]

A Question That Reaches Through Fears & Cages

homeless cat

“Courage. Kindness. Friendship. Character. These are the qualities that define us as human beings, and propel us, on occasion, to greatness.” -R.J. Palacio, Wonder

For the past two weeks, my younger daughter and I have been reading the book Wonder. Although my third grader is fully capable of reading it to herself, I asked her if I could read it aloud. I’m learning to give my soul what it needs, and holding a book in my hands beneath a heavy quilt next to my girl is what I need right now. I’m two weeks away from my book deadline and my soul is weary. Book writing brings emotions to the surface … mortality to the forefront … doubt to its loudest … and exhaustion to its peak. But knowing I’ll be curling up with my girl and this book at the end of an intense day of writing has carried me through.

August, the main character in Wonder, was born with a facial deformity. He is going to middle school for the first time and is faced with many obstacles. Sometimes I am unable to read August’s painful admissions about being the object of people’s curiosities and hurtful comments. That’s when I pass the book over to Avery. She takes over without missing a beat and after a few minutes, asks, “Are you okay, Mom?” I wipe away my tears and tell her it hurts my heart to see people—especially children—being mistreated, alienated, and excluded. She nods as if she understands completely and then we talk about what we just read. I can’t remember this happening with any other book she’s read, so I go with it, even if it’s time to turn off the lights.

One conversation that stood out was when August’s teacher, Mr. Browne, asked the students to name some really important things. After many great student guesses, he reveals what he believes is the most important thing of all:

“Who we are,” he said, underlining each word as he said it. “Who we are! Us! Right? What kind of people are we? What kind of person are you? Isn’t that the most important thing of all? Isn’t that the kind of question we should be asking ourselves all the time? ‘What kind of person am I?’ Learning who you are is what your are here to do.”
-R.J. Palacio, Wonder

I turned to Avery and asked, “What kind of person are you?”

[Read more…]

Words We Cannot Afford to Keep From Our Children

lifeline #hfm

“When I need to get home,
you’re my guiding light,
you’re my guiding light.”
Foy Vance

It was almost one o’clock a.m. when my plane landed. I felt anxious. It was only my second time flying back to my new “home”, a city that contained one of the busiest airports in America. I reminded myself that the hosts of the speaking event I just attended were aware of my travel anxieties and poor sense of direction. They kindly arranged a transportation company to retrieve me from the airport and take me home. I managed the airport shuttle without trouble and felt certain I was getting off at the right stop. But when I went to the top of the escalators, my ride was not there. I felt my chest tighten, my pulse quicken. I looked around and saw a vast hallway quickly emptying as people hurried off to their destinations.

I fumbled for my phone. I called the transportation company and said I could not find my ride. They instructed me to find the Delta terminal, walk outside, go down a ramp, and look for the area where cars were idling. I told them I did not see any Delta signs and was not familiar with the airport. “Could the driver please come to me instead?” I asked, trying to keep my emotions in check. They put me in touch with him. The way he spoke to me was rude, condescending, and not helpful at all.

I stood in the middle of the massive airport deciding if I should walk outside in the darkness, unsure of where I was going, or stay put. With shaky hands, I wiped the tears falling from my eyes. I didn’t know what to do.

“I see you are troubled. Can I help you?” a uniformed driver waiting for his client said in a beautiful accent.

When I explained what happened, he offered to talk to the driver. As he waited for the man to answer his phone, he reassuringly said, “Don’t worry, I will help you.”

[Read more…]