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.”

I trudged up to Avery’s room where she was supposed to be picking out a book to read for bedtime. Instead she was studying a small dish filled with colorful rocks. She had the neck of the bendable light shining directly down on her collection. She was investigating each one like a true geologist.

rocks
“Do you think this a piece of chalk or a rock?” she posed with a giggle. I could tell it was a trick question, so I played along.

“It sure looks like chalk to me,” I replied.

“Nope! It’s a rock!” Avery then proceeded to tell me how she was going to take a few rocks to school tomorrow to show her teacher and classmates.

As she described noteworthy qualities about each colorful stone, a thought I’d never had in my life came to me. “I want to get excited about rocks.”

First it was ducks then it was rocks. I had no idea where this coming from.

The next morning Avery bounded down the stairs fully dressed and ready for breakfast. She was clutching the Jump Rope for Heart paper in one hand and her rock collection in the other. It was 6:35 a.m. and she was smiling the way people do when they are sailing away on a tropical cruise. I found her pre-dawn cheerfulness slightly irritating.

“Listen, Mama,” she instructed looking deliriously happy. “Sally, seashell, supper, silver.”

I looked at her cluelessly. It was much too early for word riddles.

“I can say my S’s now even with the appliance in my mouth!” Avery explained. Then she cheered a hearty “yes!” accompanied by a fist pump. She actually fist pumped and it was still dark outside.

There I stood in my mismatched pajamas and mismatched socks holding a plate of eggs made the way I always make them thinking, “I want to get excited about S’s too.”

Although it was painful to admit, I couldn’t remember the last time I felt excited … like bursting-at-the-seams excited … like wearing-pure-joy-on-my-face excited. Truthfully, I was in a slump. My heart felt like it was only half beating. My view of the world looked colorless. Should I consider medication? Meditation? Vacation? What’s wrong with me? I wondered.

All day I thought about my lack of excitement, my missing enthusiasm, my going-through-the-motions existence. I’d just started a 21-Day Choose Love Challenge. I’d vowed to choose love as my response in times of anger, frustration, distraction, and overwhelm, but suddenly I also wanted to Choose to Love Life More. I wanted to get excited about unexpected triumphs and everyday blessings the way my eight-year-old daughter did. But was such an aspiration unachievable? I wondered. Maybe this is just what happens when you get older. After all, very little is new and fresh anymore. My days are redundant; my schedule is predictable. Perhaps only children can get excited about plastic ducks, shiny rocks, and correctly pronounced words. I had no answers, but I felt slightly more hopeful because I was asking questions—even ones that hurt.

Avery got off the bus that afternoon with three little plastic ducks joyfully swinging from her neck. By the look on her face, it was Christmas in February. She merrily informed me that she had to practice jumping rope as soon as she got home.

I sat on the driveway bundled up from head to toe while my coatless child demonstrated several variations of jump roping despite the bitter wind. I couldn’t help but notice the way the plastic ducks danced on her chest with every hop. As Avery got into a rhythm, the ducks literally came to life.

jump rope
“May I try?” I blurted out of nowhere.

Avery looked thrilled by my request and handed me the rope.

I hadn’t expected to twirl the rope multiple times without tripping. I hadn’t expected it to actually be fun. I hadn’t expected Avery to smile so brightly at the sight of her mama jumping rope.

“Wow! You’re pretty good, Mama!” she said with a blend of shock and delight on her face.

Between the sunshine, her smile, and the movement of my stiff body, I felt a little better. I felt a little pulse coming back to my lifeless veins.

A few hours later Avery asked if she could set up a “spa” to pamper me. I thought about saying it was too late. I was tired and just wanted to put her to bed. But those ducks hanging around her neck seemed to beckon me with their animated eyes.

After agreeing to her offer, my child promptly filled a shallow container with warm, soapy water. She lovingly caressed my feet while the ducks hung suspended over the water as if they were flying. Avery patted my feet dry and soothed fragrant lotion into my thirsty winter skin.

spa
I hadn’t expected her to be so good at massaging my feet. I hadn’t expected it to feel this soothing. Between her soft little hands, the tranquility of the water, and our loving connection, I felt a little better. I felt a little life awakening in my sleeping bones.

The next afternoon was Avery’s swim team practice day. She’d just finished up dryland training, which is the conditioning portion of practice that involves running and calisthenics.

“Want me to show you where our team runs when we go outside?” Avery asked eagerly.

I really wanted to get home. I needed to start dinner. But the ducks—the ducks got me again. They seemed to whisper, “Say yes.”

“Okay,” I spit out reluctantly.

“Follow my path,” Avery called out looking back at me with an encouraging smile. Something told me those were words to remember.

Avery and I ran for seven solid minutes. We ran up concrete stairs, around bends, and down hilly inclines. She was grinning the whole time—this little girl who really doesn’t like to run was grinning and running. And the ducks were dancing against her heart.

“No walking, Mama,” she coached when I began to slow my pace. “Gotta get your heart rate up!”

My heart rate was up. Oh, how my heart was beating. Between the encouragement of my mini trainer and the sight of my warm breath hitting the cold air, I caught a glimpse of color in my colorless world. A little spark of life tingled in my extremities.

Follow my path. Those words stuck with me. A few days later, their importance was revealed.

It was Day Seven of the Choose Love Challenge. I’d taken my daughters and their friend to a rustic park with gentle trails nestled among tall trees. It was unseasonably warm that day and after a short hike the kids asked if they could spend time building huts in the forest. They pointed down to small valley off the beaten path with a tranquil stream and an abundance of fallen tree limbs.

“Please say yes! Please say yes!” they begged.

I looked around and noticed no one else was straying from the designated trail. But I had to admit, the children were right. It was the perfect spot to build their village.

“Yes,” I said with a smile. “Let’s go.”

We scaled down the ravine together. I listened to the three companions discussing where they would set up a restaurant, town hall, and their individual huts. After an hour of planning and gathering, I could see we would be there awhile. I began my favorite activity in the whole world: walking. And because the children were in the middle of the open ravine, I was able to keep my little builders in sight.

park
I lost count of the number of people who stopped to watch the children and delight in their imaginative storyline. I lost count of the number of children who begged their parents to let them go off the path too. I lost count of the number of times I looked down and marveled at the joy the children were finding in dead wood and lively company.

That’s when it hit me.

As a child, nearly everything is a new path. Children feel excitement about every opportunity, every trail, and every experience because they see it through Beginner’s Eyes.

But as an adult, it becomes more difficult to encounter anything novel or unfamiliar. Daily redundancy and expected outcomes bring a lifelessness that can feel all-consuming and hopeless.

But just because you are an adult does not mean you must live a life void of excitement, passion, and joy. Just because you are no longer a beginner does not mean you can’t have Beginner’s Eyes like a child. You can. Simply go off the beaten path:

Take a different route
Accept a challenge
Learn something new
Say yes to invitations that go outside your comfort zone
Surround yourself with Livers of Life
Stop expecting and be open to the unexpected

Every time you feel that ache to feel more enthusiasm than you currently do, say something you thought you’d never say:

I want to get excited about fuzzy socks.
I want to get excited about snowflakes.
I want to get excited about bath bubbles, cereal that doesn’t get soggy, and balloons with curly, red ribbons.
I want to get excited about crunchy green apples in the dead of winter.
I want to get excited about this glorious day in front of me just waiting to be lived.

Say it and then see where it takes you.

With Beginner’s Eyes, what is lost can be found.

With Beginner’s Eyes, a lifeless heart can be resuscitated.

With Beginner’s Eyes, an uncharted path becomes available. All you have to do say YES with an open hand and heart.

(Ducks optional)

hands
* A special thanks to Avery’s amazing P.E. teacher (you know the one) who inspired Avery and the entire student body to jump! They raised $35,000 for The American Heart Association! Now that’s something to get excited about!  

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Friends of The Hands Free Revolution, it seems like forever since we last talked. I have missed you! Please tell me how you spent the last 21 days choosing love. Tell me your triumphs. Tell me your struggles. It’s so good to be back!

One thing that never fails to excite me is meeting you, my beloved readers. I am speaking in Indiana in March and would love to see you at one of these events:

Thursday, March 12
Batesville Chamber of Commerce Speaker Series
RomWeber Marketplace Banquet Hall
7 South Eastern Avenue, Batesville
Doors open at 5:30 p.m.
My presentation begins at 6:15 p.m.
Book signing at 7 p.m.
Tickets: $20 per person includes appetizers & soft drinks
Click here for all the details.

Saturday, March 14
Grand Opening of St. Vincent’s Carmel Women’s Center
13500 N. Meridian St
Indianapolis, IN
I will be speaking from 11:30 to 12:30 p.m. with a book signing directly following
.
This is a FREE EVENT with a morning of giveaways, health screenings, pop-up boutiques, & more
Click here for all the details.

*If you have any friends in Indiana that you think might be interested in attending, I’d be grateful if you share my Events page. Thank you!

‘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 …

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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.

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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.

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Finding Hope in the Before & After … It’s Not Beyond Repair

"Who I am becoming matters more than who I once was. Today matters more than yesterday." -Rachel Macy Stafford (signs by Avery, age 8)

“Who I am becoming matters more than who I once was.
Today matters more than yesterday.”
-Rachel Macy Stafford (signs by Avery, age 8)

 

Six weeks ago my eight-year-old daughter was fitted with a palatal expander to address several dental issues. In the four visits we’ve had to the orthodontist, one thing never fails to happen. My daughter pauses at the BEFORE and AFTER bulletin board and studies every bright smile, every straightened tooth, every hope-filled gap. As we enter and before we leave, my child stops to study the transformations as I stand beside her quietly. Along this Hands Free journey I’ve learned there are times when I must not rush my child. Standing in front of the BEFORE and AFTER display is one of those times. I let my Noticer look until she is ready to move on.

At home I am required to take a tiny pin key (pictured above) and stick it into minuscule hole inside the expander. My daughter dutifully opens her mouth as wide as it will go, allowing me to see inside the dark cavern of her mouth. From there, I slowly turn the wheel downward until the next hole appears.

As I turn the wheel her upper dental arch expands by a hair. A single hair. You would not think a hair of expansion would hurt, but it does. My child presses her hands against her nose in an effort to relieve the pain. Although there are often tears, she is always brave. I can’t be sure, but I think my daughter imagines the AFTER picture during this process. She knows there is a reason for this pain. And although the transformation cannot be seen as it is happening, someday it will be seen. And perhaps those beginning their own transformations will find inspiration from her BEFORE and AFTER photos.

applianceAround the time my daughter got her expander, I received a heartbreaking e-mail message from a blog reader with an especially challenging question. “Everything is broken in life—my marriage, my relationships with my children, my feelings about myself. Where do I start when there is so much to repair?” the reader asked desperately.

I was not able to form an answer to this dear reader for many weeks. It wasn’t until my child and I stood at the BEFORE and AFTER display most recently that I knew what I would tell this woman yearning to bring joy and connection back to her life.

I would say this:

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A Question to Live By

small moments/small notebooks HFM

“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” –Fernando Sabino

I wrote this post five months ago, but I knew the moment I wrote it that I would post it on January 1st. I’ve discovered that ‘Moving’ and ‘Moving On’ require many of the same skills … many of the same braveries … many of the same hopes. If you are ready to move on from the challenges and disappointments of 2014, take a look. Even if you have seen this message before, it might look different today. My friends, it’s a New Year, but more importantly, it’s a New Day. Let’s start looking for That Moment When.

 

I was standing over the shrimp dip when a family friend approached me. Although he was known to ask thought-provoking questions, and this was my going away party, I was not expecting this one. “So once you get settled in your new home, what do you imagine that moment will look like when you feel like everything is going turn out okay?” he asked.

In one mere sentence my friend went straight to my greatest fears, my greatest insecurities, and my greatest hopes. Funny thing is, I knew the answer to his question. I’d envisioned it a thousand times as I’d prepared our home to be emptied. Tears began dripping my face. An unsightly sea of mascara, I was sure, but I could not stop the tears if I tried. My friend didn’t act like it was any big deal. His wife, who is also my dear friend, had probably exposed him to spontaneous sobbing a few times. My friend just waited. Then he listened.

“When my children come home from school and say, ‘I met a friend today, Mama.’ That is when I know it’s gonna be okay. One friend makes the whole world better, you know. One friend for each girl. That is the moment,” I replied. Then I dabbed my eyes with a yellow party napkin and smiled because friends like that just make you smile even when you’re crying.

I thought that conversation concluded over appetizers and farewell hugs, but it didn’t. For the past two months, that conversation has continued in my head.

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12 Daily Vows to Grasp What Matters This Holiday

12 daily vows 4 for a Hands Free holidayMy holiday goal has changed over the years. My former goal for December 25th involved boxes—checking off boxes, wrapping up boxes, and stuffing emotions in a box until they came out in some negative form or another. My former holiday goal focused on how things looked rather than on how they felt. From the outside, it looked like picture-perfect happiness but underneath was exhaustion … comparison … irritation … stress … and frustration. I would collapse after Christmas not really having one significant memory to cherish because I’d been too busy, too annoyed, too distracted, and too overwhelmed.

But at the close of 2010, I received a powerful wake-up call that changed my holiday goal indefinitely.

In the days following our family’s Christmas, my mom had a transient ischemic attack (or mini-stroke) and was unable to remember the holiday we’d just shared together. It had been a very special holiday because it was my first Hands Free holiday. I’d let go of distraction and perfection in ways I didn’t think I ever could. One of my fondest memories of that Christmas was sitting at the kitchen table with my family painting glasses to use at our Christmas Eve dinner. It was ten o’clock a.m. and we were still in our pajamas. We’d eaten cookies for breakfast. My older daughter wore evidence of this delightful indulgence on her face but I didn’t dare wipe it off. The way she smiled to herself as she painted was a moment I refused to obliterate with a paper napkin. For the first time in a long time I saw joy, and it had paint-smudged fingers and lips covered in chocolate.

There was much to be done in the way of cooking and gift preparation that morning, but it could wait. For the first time in a long time, it could wait. Instead I sat there painting next to my children who were free to paint their glasses any way they wanted. I’d made it clear to my inner drill sergeant that she was not welcome here. My mom sat with us too. Her vein-lined hand was steady as she painted a flower on her glass. She talked of the small Christmas candies she got as a girl. There was holiday music playing. I felt peaceful, not frenzied. I felt beautiful, not too soft or unkempt. I felt present, not scattered in one hundred million different directions.
12 vows paintingThere’d been more laughter, more connections, and more memories made that Christmas than ever before. And my mom couldn’t remember them, but I could. Thank God, I could. Right then and there I knew that the holidays must be Hands Free from then on. I vowed to stop worrying so much about the minor details and think about the big picture. What will my loved ones remember about today? That became my daily question over our holiday breaks. I knew it would not be the roasted potatoes being seasoned with fresh rosemary or the twinkle lights that decorated the staircase. It would be the way I got down and peered into the new dollhouse and said, “Can I play too?” It would be the walk I took with my mom and sister, going slowly because my mom needed a gentle pace. It would be how I asked my dad to tell me again about his darkest period of depression and how he saw the light again. It would be how I watched my husband’s favorite football team because there was an open spot next him, and it was made for me.

I knew I didn’t want to be so busy flittering from point A to point Z that I missed the opportunity to hear the stories, take the walks, or get down on my knees and play. I wanted to decorate glasses in my pajamas instead of dusting crystal in my finest attire. What will my loved ones remember today? I hoped it would be my love, my presence, my patience, and my laugh. I wanted more than anything for them to remember my laugh.
12 vows laughingI now have four Hands Free holidays under my belt and although I am still a work-in-progress, I think I’ve finally nailed down my goal for the holidays. It is this: To gather together with our messy, imperfect hearts and create memories that outlast us all.

But here’s the thing: goals are not reached without intention, mindfulness, and action steps. So I have written some daily vows that I believe will help me get as close as I can to a meaningful and memorable holiday goal. Feel free to use one or more of these daily intentions to create more room in your holiday for love, laughter, connection, and memory making.

12 Daily Vows to Grasp What Matters This Holiday

Today I will look for the blessings among the chaos, the challenge, and the clutter. If I don’t see them right away, I will keep looking.

Today I will say, “Take your time,” and “How would you do it?” even if it feels funny and awkward coming from my lips. I will seek to find my loved ones’ Soul-Building Words and speak them often.

12 vows baby JesusToday I will view holiday experiences through the eyes of my child so my eyes can see the puffiness of the marshmallows, not the spilled cocoa … so my eyes can see the handmade ornaments, not the crooked tree … so my eyes can see the way her face lights up at the sight of the gift, not the wrapping paper covering the floor.

Today I will be a Lingerer, a Take Your Timer, and a Last to Let Go Embracer even if I have to fake it. Love will keep me coming back until I can be the real deal.

12 vows tree

Today I will take off the manager nameplate and dismiss the inner bully so my home can be a loving environment where we are all learning from our mistakes and embracing our imperfections.

Today I will resist the pressure to fill the sacred spaces of my day with unnecessary stuff.

Today I will say no to the outside world so I can say yes to the people who are my world.

12 vows sunlight

Today I will savor every bite of my family’s favorite recipes instead of obsessing over table decor, fat grams, or how soon the mess can be cleaned up.

Today I will absorb the memories of my relatives shared across the dinner table instead of consuming myself with status updates of those I barely know on a screen.

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Today I will acknowledge that a beautifully imperfect memory is at my fingertips if I pause long enough to let it unfold.

Today I will remember my loved ones are constantly growing and changing and things may be different next year. In fact, things may be different tomorrow. So today I shall savor my loved ones as they are right now.

12 vows ponytail

Today I will practice my new holiday goal: To gather together with our messy, imperfect hearts and create memories that outlast us all.

I know that every second of this holiday will not be grasping what matters. I know. But there will be moments when joy comes to the table. It might be wearing pajamas or a cookie crumb smile, but I will recognize it immediately. With open hands, open eyes, and an open heart, I’ve learned joy doesn’t come in a box.

12 vows joy doesn't come in a box

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My friends, thank you for making 2014 such an incredibly encouraging year for me as a writer. By reading and sharing my posts here and on The Hands Free Revolution page and by purchasing my book and the items in the Hands Free Shop, you have enabled me to make writing my life’s work. Your incredible support has lead to the publication of a second book, HANDS FREE LIFE, releasing on September 8, 2015. I am thrilled and blessed to have begun working with my publisher on a third book. Thanks to all who expressed their interest in me writing a Hands Free daily inspiration book. I read and cherish every comment you write and every email message you send. Thank you for being a continuous blessing on this life-changing Hands Free journey. I could not do this without you. My publisher is currently having an ebook sale and HANDS FREE MAMA is on sale for $2.99 until January 4th, 2015. Click here

It is now time to power off. My screen is going dark until January. I leave you with my two all-time favorite blog posts to grasp what really matters during the holidays and beyond. See you in 2015! 

The Twelve Days of Fatherhood

35 Gifts Your Children Will Never Forget

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.

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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.

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