The Tipping Point

I recently had the opportunity to practice one of my Hands Free strategies, which is called Take Time to Say It.

Making an effort to express appreciation for people in my life through note writing has always been one of my “Bright Spots.” Although my tendency is to write notes to people I already know, those who are already in “my circle” of friends and family.

Being Hands Free means stepping outside the boundaries of what one normally deems as “comfortable” to grasp what really matters. In this case, it meant sending something in the mail to someone I didn’t know. And the results were amazing.

A few days prior, my family and I had gone to a fairly new restaurant in the area. Everything was going perfectly until our entrees were brought out. I had asked that my fish tacos have no sauce on them. I was presented with some extra saucy fish tacos. Our waiter apologized profusely, although I assured him it was no big deal and would not mind waiting for my plain tacos.

About ten minutes later, here comes the new order. Two nice plain tacos……covered in sauce. To me, it was comical, and I was plenty full on chips and salsa. The poor waiter looked like he wanted to crawl under the table and join my youngest daughter, (who was now completely finished with her meal), playing with her Polly Pockets.

I cheerfully assured him that I was no longer hungry, and he did not need to bring me anything else. The manager quickly came out and apologized to me, (meanwhile, my family had abandoned me to the nearby yogurt shop), and graciously insisted that the restaurant “comp” our entire meal.

When I met up with my husband, (who was now pulling up the car with two tired girls in the backseat), he asked if I remembered to tip the waiter.  Oh no. Never having been given a meal for free, I did not know that I still needed to tip the waiter. I felt terrible. It bugged me for several days. Until finally one morning, I decided to go Hands Free by letting go of the kitchen mess to send “Dan” his long over-do tip.

I wrote a little note to him explaining who I was (the lady who couldn’t get away from the saucy fish tacos…I’m sure he couldn’t forget me if he tried). And assured him that I had simply forgotten the tip and that neglecting to do so was not a reflection of his wonderful service. I placed it in the mailbox feeling a sense of relief, satisfaction, and of doing “what’s right.” That was that. Until one week later. Then I received this:

Here is what it said:

Dear Mrs. Stafford,

I want to thank you for your letter and the tip for your dinner at Chuy’s. It really meant a lot to me that someone would take the time to go back and send a letter to someone they forgot to tip. I really appreciate your kindness and hope that others follow by your example.

Sincerely,

Dan

I couldn’t believe it. He was amazed that I took the time to send a letter/tip and now I was even more amazed that he wrote back to thank me!  The simple task that took a mere ten minutes to complete ended up being so much more than paying for a forgotten tip.

Through my gesture to Dan, I had restored his belief in the goodness and integrity of people. Through his gesture to me, he had confirmed that words of kindness and respect are invaluable, and I should take the time to say them (or write them) more often.

It would have been much easier, much more convenient, to simply forget about neglecting to tip my waiter. I am sure I could have said, “I will do it tomorrow,” until too much time had passed to do anything at all. And I am sure I could have justified my inaction by telling myself that it would probably not make any difference.

But I didn’t. I vividly remember the day I stood in the kitchen and told myself, “Do it now, while you are thinking about it.”

I remember looking at the half unloaded dishwasher and dirty dishes in the sink that beckoned me to complete what I had started. Yet, I knew if I went ahead and finished that task, the thought of writing to Dan would pass. And then it would be gone.

Going Hands Free. Letting go…to grasp what really matters.

I let go of a dirty dish and grasped the untarnished side of humanity.

Lord knows I am a Hands Free Work In Progress, but this time, yes, this time, I got it right.

Do you have a nagging thought of someone you need to thank or acknowledge? Instead of pushing it off, take time to do it now. It doesn’t have to be a page-long eloquently written piece…simply a sentence or two, explaining what’s on your heart. Grasping what matters. Isn’t that what life is all about?

Hands Free Evidence

One of my most widely shared blog posts was entitled, “Putting Distraction In Its Place.” If you have had a chance to read it you may remember the line, “My driving habits will affect my children’s driving habits. Let it be the good ones, not the bad ones.”

A few weeks have passed since then and my readers have kindly shared their inspiring stories of the big and little ways they are going Hands Free.  That got me thinking about what might be on the flip side of that coin of distraction. If my negative distracted behaviors influence the choices my children make, then what about my positive Hands Free behaviors?

It was around the time that I found something my daughter had taken great care in doing.  When I saw it, I knew. I knew.

By engaging in Hands Free behaviors myself, my children were reaping the benefits. I had evidence to prove it. More specifically, I had Hands Free Evidence to prove it.

And this is what it looks like…

My family recently had the opportunity to sponsor a child for $40 a month through Compassion International. My husband, Scott, walked my seven-year-old daughter to the table at the back of our church to look at the pictures of the children waiting to be sponsored.

Later he described how my daughter looked carefully at each and every photo, then selected ‘Priscilla.’  He was quite surprised that of all the adorable, bright smiling faces our daughter chose the forlorn looking girl.

When he asked my daughter why she picked Priscilla, this is what my daughter said, “She is the only one who is not smiling, and I want to give her a reason to smile.”

I was amazed and slightly embarrassed. Because the truth was that I am not sure I would have made the same choice. Something tells me that I would have looked for the cutest, most bubbly looking child in the bunch.

My daughter gave me a Hands Free realization right then and there. Going Hands Free means making choices that are not always the convenient, most pleasant, ones. Going Hands Free often translates to “effort” instead of “easy.”

When we arrived home, I read the list of “restricted” items that we were forbidden to send to Priscilla.  It said that gifts typically do not reach their destination, so only “paper gifts” may be sent.

To me, that did not leave a whole lot of choices. I expected that my daughter would write a nice note and fold it neatly into the envelope.

But going Hands Free means diverting attention away from the things that easily catch our attention, (Internet, email, social networking sites, and text messaging), and instead place focus on activities that may require more effort, but eventually create an impression, an impact, or a memory.

It appeared that my daughter already knew this. She did not simply write a short note introducing herself to Priscilla. What she did instead meant she did not play; she did not watch television; she did not snack or goof around.  For two hours she remained upstairs thinking, working, and creating something that would bring joy to a face that only spoke of pain.

I found the Compassion International envelope sitting on the counter a few days later. My daughter had sealed it shut without showing me the contents.

While I was fairly certain she did not put in a restricted item, she is only seven years old, so I decided to check.

When I pulled out all the items that she had packed so lovingly into the small envelope I found myself both laughing and crying at the depths of her creative and compassionate seven-year-old heart.

My daughter had complied with the restrictions, yet unbelievably managed to provide gifts that would touch Priscilla’s heart and, more importantly, bring a smile.

This is what Hands Free Evidence looks like:

As I stared in wonder at the contents of this envelope, a profound realization occurred to me:

Hands Free Evidence does not remain when we are in a hurry.

Hands Free Evidence does not remain when we are distracted.

Hands Free Evidence does not remain when the focus is on our own self and our own needs.

Hands Free Evidence is left behind only when take the time to slow down, be in the moment, and think outside of ourselves.

Going Hands Free is not always easy, but the results are a sight to behold.

But this story does not end here. You see, as you are also becoming Hands Free, your children are, too.  You have shown me the evidence, the unmistakable Hands Free Evidence.

I now share with you three examples of Hands Free Evidence created by children whose parents have embraced a Hands Free life.

One Hands Free Mom shared these profound words with me about going Hands Free with her children,“When I give them more of the positive attention they and I deserve, I feel the energy shift in the room.”

Here is a photo of the Hands Free evidence that her daughter left on the driveway. It reads: Joke Show 20 cents only. The money goes to the animal shelters and charity.

Another one of my readers is a father who likens going Hands Free to “looking in the mirror and deciding whether or not to change something you don’t like seeing in yourself.”

This same father shared with me recently how bothered he has become when he sees parents glued to their hand-held communication devices. I swear he had tears in his eyes when he described how a little girl in his son’s martial arts class struggled with her kneepads as her father sat oblivious to her while playing on his iPhone.

In photo below, the son of this Hands Free Dad holds an exquisite winter sculpture, Hands Free Evidence that he astutely discovered on a cold January morning.

And finally, this Hands Free reader, along with her Hands Free husband, discovered that family vacations are more memorable and more meaningful when they are devoid of all communication devices. While cleaning her daughter’s room one evening, she found this letter. It translates to read: The only thing that I wish is a simple God, that I wish. The only thing that makes the flowers bloom is a simple God. That’s what I think.

Take a look back at these beautiful photos and then commit these valuable truths to your heart and mind:

Hands Free Evidence does not remain when we are in a hurry.

Hands Free Evidence does not remain when we are distracted.

Hands Free Evidence does not remain when the focus is on our own self and our own needs.

Hands Free Evidence is left behind only when take the time to slow down, be in the moment, and think outside of ourselves.

Going Hands Free is not always easy, but the results are a sight to behold.

My daughter knew this when she selected Priscilla from an array of much happier prospects. My daughter knew this when she poured time, effort, and love into creating her care package.  Was my daughter’s knowledge a result of me living Hands Free or was she living this way all along and I was just too “busy” to see it?

You know what? It really doesn’t matter. Because the beauty of going Hands Free is that it is not about what happened yesterday; it is about today. And what really matters is this:

My children, at age seven and four, are cultivating what it means to be Hands Free; they are creating extraordinary evidence of what it means to be Hands Free; and they are loving and embracing what it means to be Hands Free.

That, in itself, is enough to put a permanent Hands Free smile on the face of distraction.

Have you ever seen any Hands Free Evidence created by your children or a loved one? If so, what was it? And if you haven’t seen any, maybe now you know it’s there. By going Hands Free yourself, you might finally see it.

Butterfly Part 2

For as long as I can remember, I have used the written word to reach out to others. Whether it is for a celebratory reason or in times of sorrow or strife, I have words to give.

Although I am a Hands Free work in progress, this is one thing I have been doing right all along. In Hands Free Mama terms, I would call message writing one of my “Bright Spots.”

Regardless of how busy, tired, or distracted I am, somehow I always find the means to write a thoughtful note to someone at least once a day.

And if it is a truly momentous occasion for someone very special to me, a poem is written.  I have written over a hundred poems as gifts for people, and I hope to write a hundred more.

One poem I wrote years ago is especially memorable. It is called, “Your Mother Is A Butterfly.” The very first version of that poem was written and framed for a dear friend after the birth of her second son.

I will never forget what she said after reading it with tears rolling down her cheeks.

She said, “If I ever have a fire in my home, first I will grab my children; then I will grab this poem.”

Over the years I have met other extraordinary women who qualify as “Butterflies,” therefore many different variations of the poem uniquely written for that particular person exist in the world today.

I had never written a sequel to “Your Mother is a Butterfly.” Truthfully, I had never even thought about it….until last week. That is when I learned that one of the past recipients of a “Butterfly” poem is facing the battle of her lifetime. Her son is currently undergoing chemotherapy for a brain tumor.

I tried to imagine what she must be going through. One minute her life was moving along smoothly; she was happy; her family was happy…and then BAM! Everything changes.  Suddenly she is faced with questions, decisions, and emotions that no parent should ever have to experience.

I immediately wanted to do something. I saw that dear friends in her area had created an extensive meal schedule that people could participate in regardless of their location. I thought about a personalized charm necklace that she could wear around her neck for strength. I considered a care package for long days at the hospital. But it didn’t take long to realize that although those are all wonderful gestures, I am called to write.

The poem began writing itself while in the grocery store, the gym, the carpool line, even during my dreams. And because these words come from something far greater than myself, this poem virtually wrote itself when I sat down to write.

And here is the God-given message entitled, “Your Mother is a Butterfly: Part 2,” written about this extraordinary woman:

Your Mother is a Butterfly: Part 2

I once told you that your mother is a butterfly.
She is still a butterfly,
But she has risen to heights unknown to most.

I stand in awe of this woman,
Your mother,
Who is a butterfly,
For you, only for you.

Her wings are powerful,
Spanning extraordinary lengths to protect you.
In the face of the most severe elements, she laughs and rises above.
Your mother is a butterfly,
Fighting for you, fighting for you.

Her body is durable,
Withstanding undeniable pain, if only to spare you.
To fears she cannot avert, she chases away with words of faith and love.
Your mother is a butterfly,
Rising for you, rising for you.

Her colors are vibrant,
Glowing brighter with each arduous challenge and imposing obstacle.
When you are lost, her colors are your beacon of hope.
Your mother is a butterfly,
Shining for you, shining for you.

Let her land on your shoulder; you will laugh.
Let her float about your head; you will dream.
Let her wings wipe your tears; you will smile.
Let her flight take your troubles; you will sleep.
Let her presence surround you; you will flourish.

I once told you that your mother is a butterfly,
But she is stronger, more durable, more vibrant than before.
Because of you.
Because of you.
Your mother is a butterfly,
And it’s all because of you.

After I framed the poem and shipped it off in the mail, I found myself coming back to it. I read it and re-read it. And during one reading something struck me.  While I am certain that my friend inspired this poem, this message is meant to be read by many. While she displays grace, dignity, determination, and faith, she has raised many from their own depths. I strongly believe that this poem, written for her, is meant to do the same. Therefore, it is meant to be shared.

And here is that message…

I think about my Hands Free journey and my daily pursuit to let go of distraction to truly grasp what really matters.  Some days I get it right. But some days I fail miserably. And because you are on this journey with me and have shared your thoughts, I know some days are better than others for you, too.

But despite our missteps and failings, I don’t know a single one of us who wouldn’t fight like hell to protect our child or loved one if they were in danger, pain, or despair.

The “Butterfly Part 2” lives in all of us. And it is ready at a moment’s notice to endure, protect, and shine with every ounce of strength it possesses.

God only knows which one of us will have to rise to this occasion.

In the meantime, I ask these two things:

Support those who are living in the challenges and struggles of Life in Part 2. Open your heart and your mind and hear what you are being called to do to provide comfort, encouragement, love and hope.

And cherish. Cherish each and every blessed day that you find yourself lucky enough to be living.

I close today with an uplifting song that contains a message pertinent for today. Whether you are living gratefully in Part 1 or grasping for a ray of hope in Part 2, let the lyrics and melody of this song cover you, inspire you, and lift you like the wings of a butterfly.

Click on the link below and get ready to dance to this inspirational song. If there ever was a Hands Free chorus, I imagine it would sound a lot like this one:

Hey, hey, hey, no matter how life is today.
There’s just one thing that I got to say,
I won’t let another moment slip away.
-Michael Franti  & Spearhead

Hey Hey Hey by Michael Franti & Spearhead

Listen to your heart.  What are you are being called to do? Push away daily distraction and grasp what really matters; answer your call.  Start by clicking the “share” button below. Send this to all the “Butterflies” you know.  There is someone in your life who needs to read this message today.

The Magazine Gesture

Yesterday I wrote about encouragement. I received such a positive response that I am “encouraged” to write more on this topic today. See how beautifully that works?

Today’s story illustrates that expressions of encouragement, support, and love need not come in fancy packages. They need not be spoken or written with eloquent speech or lavish word usage. They need not require enormous amounts of time, effort, or cost. They simply must come from the heart.

And this Hands Free Mama is learning more and more each day that simple is good.

And giving from one’s heart is on my list of what really matters.

Here is my story of how a bound collection of glossy pages became a symbol of encouragement and love, not just once, but many times over…

If you have read “Sunset Moments,” then you know that when my husband and I moved from Indiana to Florida, I experienced deep heartache for the familiar faces of family and friends back home.

Well, fortunately, that didn’t last forever. Shortly after that life-changing sunset, I met a friend.  Or as I referred to her in a poem I wrote to her years ago, (before Train used the term in the hit song), my “Soul Sister.”

We were both attending the party of a mutual friend. Within moments of arriving, we were drawn together like magnets.  Once we began chatting, we found that not only were we both new to the area, but we shared many interests.  The way we stood closely together bonding over hairstyles and homesickness, our husbands thought perhaps we were former high school friends or long-lost cousins.

I had not only found a friend, I had found a life-long friend. You know the kind of friend that despite just meeting, you feel like you have known all your life.

My friend was, and still is, extremely thoughtful. One of her little acts of kindness was collecting People magazines after she read them and setting them in a bag on my doorstep.

There was something uplifting about arriving home from a long day of teaching school children to find a bag full of delicious magazines beckoning me to relax and unwind. I instantly knew the evening ahead consisted of cozy pajamas, “Who Wore It Best,” and “Star Tracks.“ (This was before I had children of my own, as you probably already guessed by an evening of such leisure.)

But there was something more to the magazines than just the entertainment factor. It was the fact that they were there at all.  A bag of magazines does not magically appear on a doorstep. It only arrives because someone decided that instead of throwing the magazines in the recycling bin, she would save them, bag them, and drive them over to a friend’s house.

The meaning behind this gesture was clear:

Someone is thinking of me.

Someone loves me enough to bring a little happiness to my day.

I didn’t fully realize full the magnitude of the magazine gesture until we had to move again, this time to southern Alabama.

Again, I found myself in uncharted territory, not knowing a single soul. I vividly remember being lost as I tried to drive home, (this time with a three-year-old and a four-month-old strapped in the back seat), unable to read the street signs through my blurring tears. But unlike the Florida experience, a miraculous sunset did not provincially appear on the horizon to bring me hope.

During the first few months in our new home, I was very depressed. My husband wanted so badly to make me feel better. He so badly wanted things to be all right. I know with certainty that he spent hours and hours each day trying to figure out ways to bring light into the dark hole I was in.

I can almost imagine his line of thinking when he figured out this idea: Well, I can’t transplant her Florida friend here, so I will do the next best thing…People Magazine! And if one magazine can bring a smile to her face, just imagine what two will do. Yes, that’s it, I will throw in US Weekly, too!

Yes, my sweet husband, in his effort to bring me a little piece of what made Florida my happy home, ordered me not one, but two magazine subscriptions.

Every time the magazine arrived, I felt a little spark of comfort as it triggered fond memories of my friend and the way she delivered the visual delights to my door. And now there was an added spark; it was the fact that my husband put time, thought, and effort into this weekly treat for me.

The meaning behind this gesture was clear:

Someone is thinking of me.

Someone loves me enough to bring a little happiness to my day.

One short year later, my husband was promoted, and we moved again to the city in which we now reside. We moved into a community where many other “out-of-towners” live, which makes for a very friendly community. The same neighbors who welcomed us at our door with coffee cake, dinner, and well wishes also reached out lovingly as a surrogate family. I instantly had friends…and of course, two magazine subscriptions.

There were enough magazines to go around to several of my friends.  I loved presenting a paper-back pick-me-up to a dreary-eyed friend after a long night with her baby. I delighted in being able to provide a collection of “light reading” to a worried friend before her husband’s hospital stay. And I was happy to provide a stack of “must-reads” to a sick friend who was bed-ridden for a short time.

In addition, I would regularly drop them in the mailbox of one of my dearest friends, often throwing in a CD of my newest downloaded tunes or two banana muffins I had baked with my daughters.

It wasn’t until my friend moved from this particular house that she revealed just how special the magazine gesture had been to her.

She explained that she had already taken all the boxes from her home and was pulling away one last time when she said her eyes fixated on her mailbox.

She said, “I was O.K. until I looked at my mailbox. But the thought of opening my mailbox and never seeing another unexpected surprise from you made me incredibly sad.”

Just as it had been for me, those magazines represented something far greater than mere pages to peruse before turning out the light.

The meaning was clear. You know it by now, but it bears repeating:

Someone is thinking of me.

Someone loves me enough to bring happiness to my day.

You will often hear me say I am simply the messenger on this Hands Free journey.  It is by the grace of God and by the people in this story that I have this message to give.

Today’s message is this:

Whether it is a glossy People magazine or a worn and weathered book, whether it is a store-bought muffin or a homemade cupcake, whether it is a handwritten card or a typed email message, the meaning is all the same:

Someone is thinking of me.

Someone loves me enough to bring happiness to my day.

Take five minutes and go Hands Free. Turn off the TV, the computer, let the dishes sit, or the laundry go unfolded. Take five minutes and show someone they matter.

Encouragement.

Such a simple, yet, powerful, gift to give.

Do you have any simple acts of kindness like the “magazine gesture” that you do? If so, please share them where it says “leave a reply” or send me an email via the “Contact Me” link at the top of my website. And if you are just arriving at this place, it’s not too late. Because now you know how easy it is to encourage someone. In fact, a magazine on the doorstep can mean more than you may ever know.

Encouragement Takes First Place

If you have read my About Me page, you will know that encouragement is on my list of what really matters. I believe that giving encouragement is not only one of the most powerful ways to build loving relationships, but it also plays a huge role in loving oneself.

I have chosen this topic today in honor of one of the most encouraging human beings to have ever lived, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

As I find myself in disbelief over the events that recently transpired in Arizona, I find myself wondering, “Where do we go from here? What does the future hold? What can I do to make this a better place for my children?”

I think encouragement would be a beautiful, welcomed, and productive place to start.

Here is my story of the undeniable power of encouragement…

About the time that I had my Hands Free awakening, I also began running. It has quickly become one of my favorite Hands Free activities. I find that this time by myself in nature or on the treadmill listening to music is a breeding ground for reflective thinking, thoughts of gratitude, and free-flowing ideas.

A dear friend of mine encouraged me to run a 10K race (which I soon discovered was 6.2 miles and still somehow agreed). I ran my first 10K race about nine months ago, and because I had just started running, I was solely focused on crossing the finish line.

It wasn’t until my second race that I was able to run confidently, take in the sights and sounds around me, AND practice one of my Hands Free strategies. The results were profound.

I was in the first mile of the race and by now the super-fast runners had gone ahead, slower paced runners had fallen back. Basically, all the runners had found their groove.

As I ran along at my own happy little pace, I slowly began gaining on people.  It felt a bit rude to simply race on by without a word, although I noticed that is just what people do.

I decided it wouldn’t hurt to throw out an encouraging word to every person I passed. As I have recently learned, it is important to take time to say it. You just never know when you have the words that someone else needs to hear.

Although the adorable old guys bearing the cold in their running shorts were my favorite targets, I did not discriminate. I decided to encourage anyone I passed: young or old, men or women; everyone was fair game.

I decided a simple “Good job!” would suffice, accompanied by a smile and thumbs up (my four-year-old daughter’s signature sign, which was especially important if they were wearing an IPOD).

In response, I received numerous acknowledging smiles. I received a few initial looks of surprise, which quickly evaporated into a look of thanks. And there was the one clearly annoyed woman who looked at me like perhaps I was lacking enough oxygen to my brain.

Yet there was one common denominator in every single one of their responses.

Once I spoke my encouraging words, every single recipient had a sudden burst of energy. Every single person, regardless of age, gender, and facial response (even Miss Annoyed), began to run faster.

I literally laughed in amazement by the reaction of one older gentleman. Barely making it up the steep incline of the last hill, I flew past him with a hearty, “Good job!” coupled with, “You can do it!” (I have to admit, he did kind-of remind me of my dad.)

Within seconds guess who comes flying by me? The man, who less than a minute ago looked like a decrepit turtle trying to climb a steep embankment, was now booking past me. He paused just long enough to let me know it was indeed my words that had given him that fire.

As I neared mile five, I saw a woman standing on the corner yelling something to the runners whizzing past. I paused the music on my IPOD to hear what she was saying.

“One more mile! You’re in the home stretch! It’s all down hill!” For a woman with a small frame, her voice echoed along the crowded streets.

Although she was calling out to the hundreds of runners around me, I felt as if she was only talking to me.  My pace quickened, and my legs became lighter.  It was then that I noticed more bystanders had gathered along the perimeters of the last mile to cheer on their friends and families, as well as people they had never met.

Although I refer to my music as “therapy” seven days a week, I turned my IPOD off. In that moment, the music was a distraction to an experience that I didn’t want to miss. Lifting me up like a small child in her daddy’s arms was the resonating sound of encouragement.

With each cheer, my legs got stronger, and my stride grew longer. Encouragement. How can something so small, something so effortless turn weakness into strength, doubt into hope?

Couldn’t we all use a little encouragement? There is no question; the answer is yes. So maybe the better question is: Couldn’t we all give a little encouragement?

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said these profound words that resonate with me today, “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

If you are reading this, join with me and take the first step toward a more positive, loving, respectful, and accepting community of American citizens. Let’s make a vow to stop condemning, criticizing, judging, ridiculing, and belittling. We have seen the tragic results of these damaging tactics; no one wins.

Instead, let’s try encouragement.

Then sit back and watch as someone struggling to breathe suddenly finds an unexpected second wind.

With a little encouragement, everyone wins.

Whether we are talking about a running race or simply living life, giving encouragement is a powerful gesture that has a revitalizing effect on the receiver, as well as the giver. When is the last time you gave someone (including yourself) unexpected encouragement? Give it a try today and tell me about it. Encouragement is contagious.

To The One I Love

The moment seen here was created through the Hands Free Partnership that has developed between myself and my spouse.

I talk most often about how this Hands Free journey is changing me. But today I am going to talk about the changes taking place in the one who stands beside me. Because having the one that stands beside me sharing this journey is creating changes that are powerful and permanent.

I am hoping that by the end of this post, you might be inspired to reach out with this message to someone you love.

I began writing about my Hands Free awakening long before I told anyone about it. When I was finally ready to show someone the beginnings of my Hands Free writings, I gave them to my husband, Scott.

He was extremely supportive and complimentary. He said all the things I hoped he would say. The next morning, he took the girls on their usual Daddy-Daughter Saturday adventure. When he came home, he had something to tell me.  I could see it on his face. When we had a quiet moment together, he looked into my eyes.

“You know that line you wrote, ‘No matter how much she wants to, needs to, or would love to, my child cannot kiss a moving target.’?” He asked.

He was referring to a line I wrote in the blog post entitled “What I Would Have Missed.”  It was one of my favorite lines; one of my most powerful revelations thus far.  I find myself reciting those words at some point every day.

I nodded, and he continued, “I thought about that all day.  It made me really focus on everything the girls did and said. I didn’t want to just be there…I wanted to BE there.”

He then shared with me some of the meaningful Hands Free experiences he had that day.  I was astonished.  My husband has always been my role model of “living in the moment.” This is the man who never once looks at his Blackberry or computer the moment he walks in the door. This is the man who has never once placed the priorities of his demanding job above his family. This is the man who lives spontaneously, making us laugh, relax, celebrate, and remember that every day is a gift.

This man was telling me that even he was able to take something worthwhile from my writing and use it to be an even more present and focused father.

I felt a warm rush of unexpected happiness wash over me. I was excited about the possibilities of this news.  I was thrilled to discover that what I was experiencing on this Hands Free journey was not exclusive to me. But what made tears of joy spring to my eyes was the anticipation for what was to come for my family. Suddenly I had a Hands Free Partner. I was not alone in my desire to grasp what truly matters during my time on this earth.

I am thankful to report that the Hands Free Team of Rachel & Scott immediately flourished.

I thought it might be helpful to describe the simple, yet powerful ways we partner to bring Hands Free experiences into our family’s life…

He regularly creates ways to get outside and enjoy nature and fresh air with our daughters. I assist in bundling everyone up, securing the ponytails, spotting interesting clouds and cleverly hidden bird nests.

I research visits to new and unexplored area parks. He offers to navigate and bring the snacks.

He creates Easy Bake Oven recipes (from scratch, if I might add) with the girls. I serve as the taste-tester and encourager for their recipe risk-taking.

I sit with my youngest daughter as she practices her ukulele.  He follows up by being her “student” as she teaches him how to play.

He spontaneously announces we should all go see the family movie that just came out at the theater. I throw on a hat and grab the movie times.

I twirl and sing to our youngest daughter at our gym’s indoor pool. He races our seven-year-old swim team-loving daughter up and down the length of the pool.

He hoists our littlest daughter onto his shoulders for a family walk on an unusually balmy winter day. I hold hands with our oldest child as we walk along side.

He plans movie night with mattress on the floor, a mountain of pillows, hot chocolate and popcorn. I cuddle beside them watching three breathing chests rise and fall in unison knowing I will remember this moment forever.

Together my Hands Free Partner and I reap the rewards of these simple acts that merely require putting aside distraction and focusing on what truly matters.

On these occasions, the most precious words have been spoken. My four favorites are:

“I love my family!” -Said at the highest arc of a playground swing beneath a clear blue sky

“This is so fun! Can we do it again tomorrow?” -Said among the cuddly blankets and heaping pillows of “Movie Night”

“Dad can do anything.” -Said in awe among the winter breeze of a January day

“I love what is happening to our family.” -Said in a Christmas love letter that is now taped to my bathroom mirror

By going Hands Free together, we are experiencing a greater degree of connection that could not be accomplished alone.

And by going Hands Free together, we are experiencing the aspect of accountability that could not be accomplished alone.

When expressing my gratefulness in prayer for this newfound partnership, a couple that sat next to us at a restaurant often comes to mind.

While waiting for their food to arrive, they both were fixated on their prospective iPhones. With the level of attention they paid to these devices, you would have thought the answer to a long and prosperous life was about to be flashed across the screen.

Sadly, we all know the answer to life-long happiness was not going to be found on the screen of an iPhone that night, or any night, for that matter. But there is a chance that happiness could have been found between the two people who sat at that table.

I couldn’t help but to think that if even one of them was trying to live a more Hand Free life, he or she may have put their device away and instead grasped the other one’s hand.

Perhaps then she or he might have said, “We rarely get out without the kids, let’s take advantage of this time and talk.”

Who knows what discoveries they could have made about each other that night? Who knows what that two-hour long sole focus on one another could have done for their relationship?

And yet I can’t help but think about what that table would have looked like if BOTH of them were trying to live life in a Hands Free partnership.

My hunch tells me that communication and connection would have been at its peak.

And it would have had nothing to do with an iPhone.

Imagine for a moment what benefits might result from having less technology connection and more personal connection with the person who shares your life. Imagine the benefits of sharing Hands Free connection and accountability with the one you love.  If you can think of even one benefit, take 30 seconds to “share” this post by clicking the button below. Whether it’s your spouse, best friend, significant other, parent, sister, grown child, or simply someone who has popped into your mind, extend this invitation to try Hands Free living with you. The benefits will be immediate and powerful.

I Thought You Would Never Ask

My hand, my daughter's hand, and the 60 piece puzzle: Not such a rare sight anymore, thanks to being Hands Free!

My four-year-old daughter has always loved puzzles. Whenever “PawPaw” (my dad) comes to visit us, it is not unusual for them to put together several puzzles a day.

I always marveled at the way they huddle shoulder to shoulder examining each piece, attempting to place it securely in its destined spot. If it doesn’t fit, one of them says, “Nope, not there.” Then they happily continue searching for the right combination. If it does fit, there is always a mini celebration of high fives between a big hand and a little hand.

It had always been a secret relief of mine that my dad loved to do puzzles with my child. I see the great pleasure on his face as he teaches her to organize the same-colored pieces and how to look for the magical “straight edge” pieces.

I do not share the same joy of puzzles. I have never enjoyed doing puzzles. I have always convinced myself that my brain is just not wired to do puzzles.

That was before I became Hands Free. Now I call myself out on those lame excuses. I have faced the reality that those empty justifications are total BS.

Sometimes the truth hurts. Sometimes the truth is brutal. Sometimes the truth is hard to face. But I have learned that the truth is what helps me grow into the person I want to become. So here is the REAL truth as to why I didn’t do puzzles with my puzzle-loving child…

Puzzles required me to stop “being productive.” I couldn’t get X, Y, and Z done while completing a puzzle.

Puzzles required me to be patient. I could not accomplish a puzzle in five minutes and mark it off “the list.”

Puzzles required solitary focus on one task. I could not accomplish a puzzle and multi-task.

Puzzles required mistakes through trial and error. I could not complete a puzzle without putting the wrong pieces in the wrong places several times.

Puzzles required this compulsive Type A super-planner-organizer multi-tasker extraordinaire to slow down, focus, and BE in the moment.

And that is precisely what I did.

As if my daughter had sensed the change that had come over her mother, she asked me to do a puzzle with her. With a huge smile on her face, her two little hands proudly held up the 60 piece puzzle that her PawPaw and MeMe had given her for Christmas.

To be honest, just the sight of a puzzle with that number of pieces (which I uneasily noticed were very similar in color and pattern) caused me to feel a bit woozy. My former drill sergeant inner voice (which still manages to push productivity despite how much I try to silence it) wondered why it couldn’t be the Buzz and Woody 22 piece puzzle.

I took a deep breath, and we spread out the pieces…all 60 of them. Completion required two thirty-minute work periods. During those time periods,

-My daughter glanced at my legs several times. Even though my troublesome right knee did not allow me to sit “criss-cross applesauce” as instructed, my daughter was visibly pleased to see her Mama sitting there on the floor with her. Her perma-smile said it all.

-When she handed me a puzzle piece, she started calling me by my first name. Instead of “Mama” or “Mom,” she said, “Here you go, Rachel.” Suddenly we had become best friends who were on a first-name basis.

-When I got several difficult pieces in their proper spots she said, “You are doing a great job, Rachel.” She was the puzzle expert and I was her student passing the test with flying colors.

-My child gave me high fives throughout the puzzle completion process. Even if we hadn’t completed the puzzle, I could clearly see that my daughter felt my mere efforts were worthy enough for celebration.

Interestingly enough, while I was going through this Hands Free experience with my daughter, one of my readers was having one of her own.  Both of our stories so beautifully illustrate the message of today’s post that I am compelled to share. I thank this mother for sharing her story with me and for allowing me to share it now with you.

Here is her story in her own words:

Because my son is eleven-years-old, he tends to be into the “shoot ‘em up” video games, as well as football and basketball video games that do not appeal to me. He has asked me several times to play with him, but I always say I will watch him play. Then I end up on Facebook while I sit in the room with him.  But recently one evening, I ran down the basement steps and said, “What game are we going play?”  He paused his game, looked me in the face, and with a surprised voice he said, “You WANT to play?”

When I said yes, he grabbed me and kissed me. Then he handed me a controller.  He was so patient with me (as I have no clue how to play).  He kept looking at me as if he couldn’t believe I was there. This was a “Sunset Moment” I will never forget.

You see, it does not matter if we are talking puzzles or video games, playing catch or practicing gymnastics, baking bread or playing chess.

It does not matter if we are talking six-year-old girls or eleven-year-old boys, active toddlers or busy teenagers, preschoolers or middle schoolers.

There is one thing that holds true for all children, regardless of age, interests, gender or personality:

Children simply want us to spend time with them.

Children simply want to show us what they know and can do.

Children simply want us to be a part of their world.

Even if putting together a 750-piece Lego set is not your thing. Even if playing Barbie dolls puts you to sleep. Even if it means listening to the latest song your child downloaded from i-Tunes that doesn’t really sound like music at all.

Just do it.

Do it for your child.

Isn’t that reason enough?

When is the last time you did something outside your comfort zone or area of interest just so you could spend time with your child (or spouse or significant other)? If it happened recently, I would love to hear about it. If you can’t think of anything, the solution is simple. Just do it. Do it now before they do it with someone else.

Outside the Circle Awaits the Heart

Whether I stop by with hand cream to sooth the effects of chemo or a bag full of fresh produce, I feel like I am the one receiving the gift.

*Permission has been granted to use her authentic name

I was not surprised when a dear friend of mine said she was going to take lunch to someone she had never met. She was always reaching outside her circle of friends and family to make connections with people that most of us never think about, as in this case, a stranger going through the torment and anguish called cancer.

Upon moving to our neighborhood recently, Claudia*, discovered she had breast cancer.  She recently had a double Mastectomy and was undergoing chemotherapy treatments. My friend said there was a meal sign up for Claudia via the Internet.

I admired the fact that although she did not know this woman, my friend reacted to this woman’s plight as she would her sister or friend going through a tremendously difficult time.

Before I became Hands Free, I might have convinced myself that I already had a full plate with several other community obligations I was doing or that I had just taken a meal to my friend in need. But now things are different. Thank God, now things are different.

A woman needed my love and support.  A woman needed comfort food to meet the needs of her tired body. A woman needed to know that she was not alone. I wanted to be a part of that. I knew this is exactly what I am referring to when my new life mission is to grasp what really matters.

A few days later, I stood on her porch with my freshly baked banana muffins and frosted cupcakes to supplement the soup my friend was bringing. A delicately beautiful woman opened the door. Her bent frame and short hair revealed the trauma she had endured. Suddenly the baked goods that I held in my hands seemed grossly inadequate.

“Rachel?” she asked, as her face broke into a smile that instantly lifted her entire posture upward.

I smiled back and handed her the food. In one graceful move, she set it down and reached out her arms.  We embraced tightly and held on, just as you would hug a life-long friend that you hadn’t seen in years.  As we held each other, I closed my eyes and willed every ounce of strength in my body to be soaked into her fragile bones and tattered spirit.

We slowly separated, and I began to speak.  Even as the words came out of my lips, I did not know what they would be, but I knew I had been brought there as a messenger. I looked into her tearful eyes and spoke with conviction, for she needed to know these words were truth, “I hope you can feel all the love that surrounds you.  We all love you, and we are praying for you.”

Soft tears slid down her fragile cheeks as we embraced again. I swear her arms were stronger, more sure, more hopeful than a moment before.

As we said our goodbyes, I provided my contact information and we exchanged small details about our children in the hope of someday getting them together.

As I walked down the steps to my car, I turned to wave good-bye. There she stood, this woman so resilient, so grateful, so brave, so alive, still smiling as she closed the door.

I had come there with muffins, a jeweled cross, and words of hope thinking I could provide a lightness in the heaviness of her day. Yet, I felt the sudden need to say thank you. And so I did.  I called out a grateful “thank you” to Claudia and to the heavens just before my voice failed me and tears spilled from my eyes. For I had come there to be her angel, but she so powerfully and so unforgettably had become mine.

When is the last time you displayed an act of kindness for someone you did not know? Do it today and expect nothing in return. Sometimes those acts are the life-changing ones.

Putting Distraction In Its Place

I have thought a lot about my first blog entry of 2011. I hoped it would be powerful. I hoped it would cause readers to really stop and think. I hoped it would leave an impression long after the reader left my site.

I actually had it narrowed down to three entries that I had waiting in the pipeline. Three stories that each had a convincing argument as to why IT should hold the coveted spot of the “Hands Free Mama 2011 Debut.”

But that was what I had planned. And if I have learned anything on this Hands Free journey, it is that the most meaningful messages come from the unplanned. The most earth-shattering revelations come when I simply let them.

On the evening that I was blessed with such a message, I was having “couch time.” If you have read my “Keys to Distraction” entry, then you will know that one component of Daily Distraction for me is not allowing enough time to simply slow down, sit down, and relax.

In this case, sitting in the comfortable coziness of our living room allowed me to take part in a conversation that impacted me so greatly that I knew it was meant to be shared.

I was talking to a father who has one child attending college and another child who recently graduated from college. Obviously, this father is much farther down the “parenting path” of raising children than myself. I have learned there is great value in listening to the wisdom and insight of parents who have been where I have not. For they have seen what I have not yet seen. They have answered the tough questions that I have not yet been asked. They have made hard choices, some with relief and some with regret, that I have not yet had to make.

And I feel that it is worth mentioning that this particular father has done all these things while preserving mutual respect, love, boundaries, grace, and forgiveness between himself and his children. I find that quite remarkable.

He and I were talking about my Hands Free venture. But what began in an easy conversational tone became a message stated with conviction.

This experienced parent sitting before me actually leaned forward from the cushions supporting his back and looked right into my eyes.

This man had something to say, and I knew it was time to listen and listen well.

His message was this: “Parents need to know that the eight year old son or daughter that watches mom or dad talk on their cell phone while driving becomes the sixteen year old that talks (and/or texts) on the phone while driving.”

Now at first glance you might wonder if that is it. You might be saying, “I already knew that.”

I know because I said the same thing to myself … at first. But then, whether I liked it or not, I gave it more thought and applied it to my life.

I thought about the ways my daughters emulate me through dress, speech, thoughts, and actions. My youngest is not called “Little Rachel” for nothing. Thankfully, all mimicking characteristics my daughters possess of me have been positive at this point. And because of my Hands Free mission, I have come accustomed to turning off all notifications on my phone and abstaining from its use when my children are in the car. The reason I do this is to allow conversation and connection to occur. But what this father said awakened me to a new perspective like a splash of cold water to my face. Being Hands Free is vital to building lines of communication with my child, but there is something far more critical here. Being Hands Free could actually save my child’s life. By modeling Hands Free driving to my child now may result in my future sixteen year old teenager choosing Hands Free driving.

This father had been there. He had watched his daughter go from tumbling down the backyard hill to tumbling gracefully on a collegiate mat. He watched his son go from flying by the seat of his pants to flying a single engine Piper Arrow. He watched his children go from age eight to age sixteen in the blink of an eye. And sure as the sun rises and sets, it will happen to me, too.

Although his plea was spoken to parents he had never met, this father spoke with the same raw emotion as if we were talking about his very own son or daughter. The message was clear to me, and it has resonated in my head and in my heart for days: My driving habits will affect my children’s driving habits. Let it be the good ones, not the bad ones.

A few days ago, a newly Hands Free Dad pulled me aside and said this about my writing, “You know you get in people’s heads, don’t you?”

I am never sure which sentences that flow from my pen will be the ones that stick with people. I never know which phrase I type will be the one that brings profound change, as it did in my own life.  But today, I pray this entry contains that kind of unforgettable message.

I pray it is the kind of message that subconsciously pops into your head when you prepare to transport your child and your phone beckons you at arm’s length. But maybe this time, a poignant line will come to mind. And for one split second, you will pause. And then instead of reaching to make a call or send a text, you will place your phone in your glove box.

Finally, you will glance in your rearview mirror and behold the bright eyes of your most precious gift, and you will see the future staring back.

And you will smile because it is a beautiful one. It is a beautiful future, in deed.

You will often hear me say that I am simply the messenger in this Hands Free journey. Today’s entry is undoubtedly one of the most important ones I have been blessed to write. My faith tells me that this message is meant to be shared. With your help, it can be. Simply use the “share” button following the post and use any of the given mediums (Facebook, email, Twitter) to get the word out. Together we can save lives. I can’t think of a better way to begin the New Year, can you?