No Room For The Insignificant

I might be a bit biased, but I am convinced I have some of the most intelligent and thoughtful blog readers out there. I am constantly amazed by the insightful, heart-wrenching and thought-provoking comments you share with me.

Quite often I receive an email message from a reader who shares his or her own Hands Free story that makes me cry.

Quite often I read a comment or question from a reader that challenges my thinking so greatly I cannot seem to forget it.

That was precisely the case with a question a reader recently left me at the end of her email message.

Just as she was about to sign off, she threw out one last question. This dear reader asked, “How do you let go of the insignificant?”

Whoa.

I envisioned myself as a tiny weight lifter struggling to bench press enormous weights emblazed with the words The Answer To The Million Dollar Hands Free Question.

Responding to this question required a few days worth of reflective thought and prayer. Honestly, I knew I didn’t have THE answer, but I thought by sharing my own experience, it might help her find her own answer.

I ended up providing her with a few of my most used Hands Free tactics and linked her to the blog entries that described them. But what I realized in my two-day thought process was this: Letting go of The Insignificant is a daily, hourly, minute by minute challenge for me. Letting go of The Insignificant requires making a conscious decision in every waking moment of every day about where I choose to place my thoughts, energy, effort, heart, and soul.

Although I had responded to my thoughtful reader’s inquiry, the question, “How do you let go of the insignificant?” remained with me. Every time I found myself getting distracted by meaningless things, I was reminded. Hello, it’s Mr. Insignificant again.

“How DO I get rid of you?” I kept thinking to myself.

I decided that if I could figure that one out, I would no longer be a Hands Free Mama in Training.

Until then, I will continue to try and find more answers to this critical question (because I honestly think there are as many answers to that question as there are living breathing human beings).

And a few days ago, I found one.

How do you let go of The Insignificant?

You go where The Insignificant cannot go.

You go where The Insignificant is not welcome.

You go where Mr. Insignificant and his well-known side kick “Daily Distraction” have no business being.

You go to the library.

Here is my story…

I used to take my daughters to the library once a week when they were younger. Every time we relocated, the location of the nearest library was the first thing I would “Google” about our new city. Yet, as the children grew, and I became “busy,” our trips to the library became few and far between.

But the other day, my four-year-old said she wanted to read all the Froggy books ever written. What a precious goal for a four-year-old. The Hands Free Mama in me could not deny her this lofty goal. I knew we must do it.

We went to a beautiful local library as a family on a Saturday afternoon.

Just as I was getting out of the car, I paused and looked at my phone and decided it was not needed where I was going. I left it in the car and took my daughters’ hands instead.

As soon as we walked in, I was enveloped by hushed whispers and muffled steps in the soft carpet. I inhaled the scent of worn pages as I would a home baked pie. The relaxed checkout people sat smiling, ready and able to approve as many vicarious getaways that a bag could hold. Instantly, my blood pressure dropped about ten points.

The Insignificant began losing its grip.

My seven-year-old went off to peruse her own section. My four-year-old grabbed her daddy’s hand and headed to puzzles. I was left in blissful solitude to open page after page of beautifully illustrated books that I would later take home to read to my children. As both an elementary school teacher and writer, this was pure heaven.

After about ten minutes, I heard my oldest daughter’s voice. She was speaking to the woman at the circulation desk.

In a self-assured tone she said, “I would like a book about bullies.”

I watched from a short distance as the kind librarian tried to narrow it down by asking, “Would you like picture books or perhaps non-fiction books about bullying?”

“All of them,” my daughter confidently replied.

The patient woman escorted my daughter to several sections of the library. I watched as she would remove a book from the shelf and show my daughter the cover. Every single time, my daughter shook her head with approval.

Soon the taut little muscles in my child’s arms bulged from the load of bully books that now filled her arms.

Before the woman left to go back to her post, she turned to my daughter and offered a sympathetic “Good luck.”

I’m certain this sweet librarian said a prayer for my child that night. I’m sure she envisioned all sorts of horrible scenarios for the child who checked out every bully book the library owned.

But I knew the real reason my daughter wanted these books. Thankfully because of Talk Time, I knew the reason.

My daughter had survived her own bully experience in the fall and now had taken it upon herself to help those in need. She wanted to help other children in bully situations overcome the fear of standing up for oneself, just like she had.

Although I was very proud of my daughter, I felt a pang of disappointment in myself. I wondered how long she had wanted to put her hands on these resources. I sadly wished I had brought her here months ago.

But my Hands Free inner voice quickly dismissed the guilt. The loving voice that tolerates no negative self-talk said, “You are here now; that is what matters.”

She sat on the floor pouring over her small mountain of bully books. I sat down next to her and read aloud one of the more advanced books that the librarian had offered her.

My daughter didn’t have much to say. She was absorbing. She was digesting.

The Insignificant had completely lost its grip.

After a few minutes, she gathered up her grand stack using every ounce of strength in her small body and ran off to show her dad.

To my four-year-old, I revealed the five Froggy books I had collected for her. By the delighted look on her face, you would have thought Froggy was here to read them to her himself.

My Froggy obsessed child and I then curled up together in the beanbag chair and proceeded to read all five of the books. “Froggy Goes to the Doctor” even received an encore.

The Insignifcant? What’s that? Not only had its grip been released, but it was now the farthest thing from my mind.

One hour in the library; I had escaped the rush of the world. I had crawled into a sacred, quiet place where distraction could not touch me.  And in this place I had found a beautiful connection to the ones I love the most. I felt peacefully renewed, serenely whole.

And each night when we select one of the thirty-five picture books that we checked out on that glorious day, a tiny sliver of peace is re-discovered. We snuggle into the safety and security of our blankets and become lost together in the story.

And one day soon after, an additional bonus of this tranquil escape to the library came to light.

My seven-year-old daughter came through the door afterschool bursting to tell me something.

She told me that when she witnessed a shy student being made fun of, she put her arm around the crying child and asked her if she needed help. After the child indicated she did, my daughter took her to the teacher to report the incident. My daughter was pleased by the response of the teacher and by the heartfelt apologies of the instigators.

This was my child who six months ago had endured several days of being pinched and excluded because she was deathly afraid to tell the teacher about a bully.

I tried not to show my tears at her announcement. Yet, I was overcome with relief and gratitude. Thank God, I had not been “too busy or “too distracted” to witness this beautiful transformation in my child.

Thank God, I had let go of The Insignificant long enough and at the right moments to help my child come to this place.

How do you let go of The Insignificant? I have an answer:

Crawl into the spaces that The Insignificant cannot fit. And what you might find is peace, tranquility, and the ones you love the most are right there waiting for you.

Where do YOU go to let go of The Insignificant? If you have an answer, I would love to read it through the comment button or by emailing me using the “contact me” button under my logo. And if you don’t have answer, discover one today. Start by looking in the places that make your loved ones smile. Start there. Do it today.

More Than “I Love You”

My daughter placed her mama's two love notes side by side on her self made "Memory Wall."

Approximately one year ago, my husband’s company honored him for outstanding job performance, and we were awarded a trip. For the first time ever, we would be separated from our daughters for eight days.

There was packing to do and instruction lists to make for my mother-in-law who was going to care for the girls in our absence. There were clothes to organize for school, as well as for sports practices. But there was something more far more important than having all these things in place.

And I could not walk out the door until I did it.

I could not leave until I wrote love notes to my daughters.

I could not leave until I told them how many times I thought about them when we were separated. I could not leave until I told them exactly what made me proud to have them as my daughters. I could not leave until I told them everything I found wonderful, captivating, and beautifully original about them.

I told them all these things in a note that I taped to their bed frames before I left. I knew that when they came to bed, my words would be there to comfort them, even though I would not be.

I’d like to say I did this for the sole reason to comfort them, but the true reason was far more grave. I put the notes there just in case…just in case the unspeakable happened…just in case I never came back to tell them these things myself.

That was one year ago and my seven-year-old daughter’s note still remains in her room. She moved it from her bed frame to the “memory wall” she created one Saturday afternoon by herself from a drawer full of unused pictures.

Among pictures of herself as a baby, beloved family members, and long ago friends from places we used to live, hangs her mama’s love note.

One day, I walked by and saw her reading it. I don’t know if that was the first time, but I imagine it wasn’t.

Recently one night when we were having our cozy talk time, as I listened to her pensive thoughts and marveled at the beauty of her face in the darkened room, a heart wrenching thought struck me like a punch in the stomach. Why must an eight-day separation from my daughter provide the inspiration to write her a love note? Why must the fear of never returning be the reason I tell my child exactly what it is that I love about her?

As I was about to leave the room after talk time I called out one more time, “I love you,” just as I do every night.

But I wanted to tell her more. She needed to know more. She deserved to know more. And not because I am leaving. Please God, not because I am leaving anytime soon. Just because I love her, and she needs to know exactly why.

So I sat down and wrote these words

To my dearest daughter,

I love your kind, compassionate heart.

I love that you are kindhearted and sensitive, and you cry when your heart hurts.

I love that you don’t stay sad for long, but instead try to figure out how to make your heart heal.

I love that you cry for others who are hurt and try to figure out how you can make them feel better.

I love that you think deeply about things in life, and that you ask me questions and listen intently to the answers.

I love to hear you read aloud. It amazes me at how far you have come. I love that you never gave up on something that was difficult.

I love your pretty handwriting and the notes you leave for me.

I love how you teach your little sister so many things. You are so patient and loving with her.

I love how you are becoming more confident and sticking up for yourself and for others who are being mistreated.

I love how you think about God and how you try to use your God-given talents to help others.

I love how you support my dreams of being a Hands Free Mama.

I love how you are such a wonderful helper anytime I teach children at church, school or Girl Scouts.

I love it when you laugh so hard that you get tears in your eyes.

I love it when you think about your daddy when he is away and appreciate what a great dad he is.

I was about to conclude my love note to my daughter when the compelling words of one of my readers came to mind. She said this about her father:

Our family was ripped apart by the inability of a man to say, “I’m sorry” and “I was wrong.”  These are words I have made a point of saying to my loved ones.  I have learned that words said in an unkind manner, even if they are accurate, are hurtful and warrant an apology. I find the words you write in your blog to be healing. In your own way, you are letting your children know you can sometimes be wrong, and you will find a way to make things right…and they are important enough for you to try.

Given that powerful bit of wisdom, I decided this love note was the perfect opportunity to say, “I am sorry” and admit my mistakes because I am certain that I don’t do it often enough.

As my thoughtful reader relayed from first-hand experience, the words “I am sorry” are beautifully healing. My daughter needed to hear them. She deserved to hear them. My love note continued:

I am sorry I don’t always take time to tell you these things that I love about you.

I am sorry when I tend to point out the things you could improve on instead taking time to celebrate the million things you do right.

I am sorry sometimes I lose my patience over things that are meaningless and unimportant.

I am sorry for raising my voice when I could just use a normal voice.

I am sorry that sometimes when I get angry with you, it actually has nothing to do with you.

I will try my best to do better on these things that I am sorry about and that hurt your feelings. Thank you for loving me even despite my mistakes. Thank you for  forgiving me.

I hope you know that being a good mom to you is my most important job, and I am thankful every single day that God blessed me with the job of loving you and raising you.

I am so proud that you are my daughter. Nothing makes me happier than to look at you, talk to you, and listen to you. You are the greatest gift my heart has ever known.

Once I completed the letter, I printed it out and read it to her. I shared it during our nightly talk time so we would have this time to ourselves with no interruptions.

I started by telling her that I had written her a note and wanted to read it to her. She smiled and quickly sat up as if she didn’t want to miss anything.

I began by reading all the things I love about her.

Her face immediately shined. The way she smiled reminded me of when she holds my neighbor’s excessively cuddly cat.  In her eyes, I saw tenderness and love; I saw growing self-confidence and pride; I saw happiness that only true connection with another living being can bring.

When I got to the apology section, she immediately dropped her head. Her hair hung forward, and I could not see her face. Although apologies are often uncomfortable for the giver, it appeared that being on the receiving end was difficult for her. That made me realize that I don’t apologize often enough.  I continued reading although it was difficult for both of us.

When I came to the conclusion of my note, her head popped back up and her beautiful smile resumed in full force.

I waited to see how she would respond. I could tell she was thinking. But instead of saying any words, she simply leaned over and hugged me.

For some reason, when I wrapped my arms around her, they felt lighter.  A weight that I hadn’t realized was there had been lifted.

And then without missing a beat, she began our nightly talk time discussion.

And since “easy and light” has never been the theme of talk time for this child, she began with: “How long do you think MeMe and PawPaw will live?”

Whew, talk about going straight to the heart.

We then snuggled in while I quickly prayed God would guide me in answering my daughter’s questions, questions that I ponder with great difficulty and emotion myself.

Our talk time began and covered much territory in ten minutes, but this time there was a renewed connection, a solid foundation that had not been there the night before.

Tonight not only did she know I loved her, but she knew every single reason why.

And that, my friends, makes for an incredibly soft place to lay your head.

When is the last time you told your child or loved one what you love about him or her? Grab a piece of paper. Make a list; it doesn’t have to be fancy. Just say what’s in your heart today. Tomorrow has no guarantees.

The Angel Impact

A few weeks ago, I celebrated a birthday. I was overwhelmed with kindness from all directions…family, friends, even strangers who have become part of my life through this blog.

Several of my closest friends planned to take me out to dinner. The first time it was scheduled, my daughter became ill and we had to cancel.  The second time it was scheduled, there was an unexpected ice storm and again, we had to cancel.

I was convinced that this birthday celebration was just not meant to be. When I suggested we just skip it this year, my friends immediately scheduled a third date for the celebration.

When we finally all sat down at the table, I had a lump in my throat. There are no words to explain how good it feels to look at the faces of those who don’t give up on you.

I insisted we have a picture, but it was not what you would call your “typical” birthday party picture.

Given these women are loving supporters of both Rachel and of “The Hands Free Revolution,” they didn’t question why I asked them to put their hands together for a picture. They all happily placed their hands in the middle of the table excited to be “Hands Free Rock Stars” in an upcoming blog post.

As I went to take the picture, I found myself getting a little emotional. When I looked at these hands, I thought of not only the hands physically present, but also the hands spiritually present. I thought of every hand of every loving soul that at some point made an impact in my life.

You will hear me speak of angels on this Hands Free journey. I can honestly say I would not be a Hands Free Mama typing these words right now if it weren’t for the angels in my life.

I would not be where I am today without The Angels Who Hold Me Up.

There are people in my past who have held me up in a major way.

There are people in my past who have held me up in small, but incredibly meaningful ways.

There are people currently in my life that hold me up each and every single day.

Whether it was then or now, I am grateful. So today, in honor of Valentine’s Day, I am making a list because I feel that it is important to show what “The Angel Impact” looks like.

It might surprise some to learn that incredibly grand gestures and elaborate gifts are not required to touch someone else’s life. It is quite the opposite, actually.

The Angel Impact is seeing a need and then doing whatever it takes to fill that need, regardless of the inconvenience or effort it may cause to provide for someone.

The Angel Impact is taking time to let someone know he or she matters, whether it is through words, actions, beliefs, prayers or presence.

The Angel Impact involves those unforgettable moments in life where you can’t believe someone would do (or say) such a thing for you.

“The Angel Impact” in my life looks like this:

You love my daughters like they are your own.

You are my role model.

You put your hands on my trembling shoulders, held back your tears and said, “You will be just fine.”

You told me you have kept every single note I have written you, and you read them when you are sad.

You see my imperfections, yet you love me even more.

You are the woman I aspire to be.

You are my forever friend since kindergarten, never once letting me down in thirty-four years.

You and I hit a rough patch, but we survived and grew closer.

You took care of my children when they had never been left with anyone besides my family.

You barely knew me, but yet you introduced me to every person you knew so that I would feel included and welcome.

You saw my potential before I did.

You loved my daughter as a person, not simply as a student.

You found me after twenty years and showed me that time and distance cannot alter certain connections between two people.

You are real and allow me to be real.

You are a safe haven for my disappointments, dreams, and frustrations.

You loved me like a daughter.

You loved me like a sister.

You showed me the true meaning of strength and have lived gracefully in honor of your daughter’s legacy.

You never judge me; you only accept me.

You rescued me by holding my colicky baby for hours and hours.

You came into my life at the precise moment that my heart needed you.

You offered me a job.

You listened as I cried in sorrow.

You listened as I cried in frustration.

You believed in me.

You forgave me.

You helped me collect 500 toothbrushes for children who brushed their teeth with twigs.

You showed me what it means to slow down and live in the moment.

You prayed for me.

You shopped with me for hours until we found six great outfits that a postpartum body could feel good in.

You are the greatest source of encouragement my heart has ever known.

You knew I could run 6.2 miles before I did.

You offered to go with me to see the surgeon.

You said this many times, “If anyone should have a blog, it is you.”

You held me when my grandma died.

You left my good-bye party without saying good-bye because you loved me that much.

You opened the doors to God.

You sobbed with me when I told you I had to move away.

You make every effort to be a part of my daughters’ lives despite distance.

Your smile outside the door of a new mother’s group was my first sign of hope in months of darkness.

You drove two hours to bring me a homemade coconut birthday cake.

You not only understood my daughter’s sensitivity, but you celebrated it.

You have become my family.

You breathed life back into my lifeless daughter and then sat with me in the emergency room until we knew she was OK.

You helped me send truckloads of lovingly filled shoeboxes to children who have never received a gift.

You drove for hours and hours just to see me.

You opened your classroom and your heart to my students with behavior disorders.

You wrote a note about me that I want to be read at my funeral.

You looked into my tearful eyes and told me not to give up.

You read my blog.

You shared my blog.

You inspire my writing through honest and heartfelt comments.

You took my hand.

You wrapped your arms around me.

You wrapped your arms around me.

You held me up when I couldn’t stand on my own.

You saved me.

You healed me.

You are my angel.

And now it is your turn. As you read through “The Angel Impact” list, I am certain you thought of your own list.

Who holds you up?

Let them know today. Do not wait. Do it now.

And one last thought: Keep surrounding yourself with those who hold you up. Life is too short to be spent with the ones who hold you down.

Who holds you up? This is your chance to let them know. Click the “share” button below and send this message to an angel who held you up. Who knows? Maybe someone will send it to you. You never know what action you do (or did) in someone’s life will create, “The Angel Impact.”

Someone Will Notice

Things I want to remember get taped to my bathroom mirror. This is one message that is too costly to forget.

It has become a common occurrence for readers to send me messages like the one I recently received from a disheartened mother after dropping off her child at school.

This is what she wrote:

Today I happened to be second in carpool line. In front of me there was a mother playing on her phone as the child watched. While my child and I talked about different kid things like “Monster Jam” and other silly stuff, there were no verbal exchanges between the parent and child in the car in front of us. While my child and I hugged several times before he got out of the car, this parent did not even notice the teacher waiting to escort her child out the car. Needless to say, there was no hug and no good-bye for this child.

I am not perfect, but my experiences with children as a play therapist have given me an understanding about the importance of being a “Hands Free” parent.

And even though I feel like I have lived “Hands Free” since my first child was born, I still ask myself, “What could I improve on?”

Your blog serves as a reminder to everyone, those who have been living Hands Free a long time and those who do not know what it means.

I was very intrigued from this mother’s comment because I often wonder what readers gain from reading my blog. I also wonder what types of people will find value in my writing. Through her comment, this mother indicated that my messages about letting go of distraction are useful for the Hands Free, the Semi-Hands Free, and the Non-Hands Free.

And the honest truth is that at times, I fall into all of the above categories.

While it is true that the fast paced electronic communication overloaded world in which I live fuels my distraction, I must accept responsibility.

It is I who makes the choice on where to place my focus when my children and spouse are present.  And sadly, I don’t always make the “right” choice.

But as I have said many times, the beauty of going Hands Free is that it not about what happened yesterday. It is about today. It is about the critical choices that I make today.

And just as this concerned mother in the carpool line shared, we all need reminders. Even the most lovingly present Hands Free Mamas I am blessed to know need reminders.

That gives me hope. That gives me comfort. That gives me a chance.

So now I ask myself what would be the BEST reminder?

Without a doubt my children are my best reminder. Their words are my best reminder. Their thoughts are my best reminder. Their faces are my best reminder. They memories, their happiness, their precious, fragile, impressionable lives are my best reminder.

So with that in mind, I have created the best reminder that this Hands Free messenger knows how to create; it is the reason I have been placed on this earth. I have written a poem in which I have weighed every word as I write in order to produce the greatest impact possible. And regardless of where you are on the Hands Free spectrum, may it serve as a reminder to you, too.

I Have Noticed: The Inner Dialogue of A Child

It’s what you check as soon as you get up in the morning.
And what you check before going to bed.

It’s what you talk to for hours on end.
And what you listen to no matter what.

It’s what you choose to do when you have nothing to do.
And what you choose when you have everything to do.

It’s what you never leave home without.
And what you always keep close at hand.

It’s what you are looking at when you smile.
And what you are looking at when you laugh.

It’s what serves as your favorite dinner companion.
And what serves as your favorite travel mate.

It’s what you can’t imagine life without.
And what you can’t dream of not having by your side.

It’s what holds your attention.
It’s what illuminates your world.
It’s what stops you in the middle of any task.
It’s what takes precedence over anything else.

I wish it was me. Oh, how I wish it was me.

But I have noticed that it is not.

The center of your universe is not me.

I can’t even compete; I don’t seem to have a chance.

No matter how much I smile or how clever I am,

Regardless of how beautifully I draw or dance for you,

No matter how many times I say, “I love you” or hug you tight,

I can’t even compete; I don’t seem to have a chance.

Someday I might give up, but for now I will keep trying

To be the center of your universe.

I have printed this reminder and taped it to my bathroom mirror. I start my day by reading these words.

And with it, I am reminded that every time I chose distraction over the living, breathing, human being who stands before me, it does not go unnoticed.

There is a longing set of eyes that notices.

There is a hopeful heart that notices.

There is a wishful soul that notices.

I have a choice. Thank God, I have a choice.

Let today be the day that I choose who really matters over distraction.

I guarantee someone will notice.

And perhaps parents that choose to be texting or talking on the phone with their child at the park, the museum, a restaurant, or in the carpool line will notice, too.

The Hands Free Revolution has begun. Thank you for noticing.

Regardless if you are Hands Free, Semi Hands Free or Non-Hands Free, each day you are presented with a choice to choose a living human being over distraction.  What do you typically choose? How will you choose today? Please help spread this critical message by clicking the “share” button below.  Be the reason that a precious child with a hopeful heart is placed first today instead of last.

The Beauty Inside The Fold

Before I became Hands Free I loathed folding clean laundry. The unsightly mile-high heap created a persistent bother (similar to a wart) whenever I caught sight of it passing by the laundry room. Eventually, I couldn’t stand the eyesore any longer and would force myself to fold it, which typically meant putting off playing or interacting with my daughters while doing so.

“Not right now, sweetie, I have to fold laundry.”

I hated the words as they came out of my mouth. I don’t even want to guess how many times I said them.

But now things are different.

Don’t get me wrong, a laundry fairy did not magically appear. We still have dirty clothes that transform into a heaping pile of “Downy fresh” mess.

But I don’t loathe the thought of folding clothes anymore because the way I fold clothes is different now.

I stopped worrying about how quickly I could get it done once I started.

I stopped worrying if the folds would be “just right.”

I stopped worrying if the proper items would go in their designated piles.

I stopped focusing on the end result and instead focused on the process.

You see, now I have a helper. My four-year-old daughter actually gets excited when I come out of the laundry room and all she can see are my legs beneath a mountain of clean towels barely contained in a way too small laundry basket.

The first time I folded laundry with my daughter, my patience was sorely tested. It required breathing techniques that I didn’t know I could perform.

I let her start out by folding washrags. I carefully showed her how to position the square-shaped material and bring the corners to meet. Once in a little square, I demonstrated how to place it neatly in the official “wash rag stack” next to the towels.

Then with high hopes I said, “OK, it’s your turn.”

My four-year-old made a nice little round ball out of her washrag. She disregarded my organized stacks and made her own haphazard piles of washrags about the room and under the couch. She wrapped her Barbie dolls in them. She laid them on the floor and skated on them. She became sidetracked and many towels were left unfolded.

But we laughed.  And I had never laughed while folding laundry before.

So we folded laundry together again. And again. And again. And again.

I am grateful she did not give up on me.

Over time, she began folding washrags so beautifully that she graduated to regular sized towels. Her corners lined up. Her piles resembled stacks. She even raced to the kitchen to place them in the proper drawer.

Now she can even fold her daddy’s workout t-shirts while giving an on-going commentary: “Why does Daddy need two red t-shirts? Oh, wait a minute, this one isn’t red; it is orange. Daddy has an orange work out shirt and a red one. I like the red one best. Which one do you like best, Mama?”

But my favorite part of Folding Time is when she unexpectedly busts out in song and dance. Generally, this occurs when she delightfully pulls a pair of boxer shorts from the basket.

She stands up and holds them against her hips and declares, “Time to do the Chicka Wa-Wa Dance!” Then she stands up and sings a made-up song (that actually has a catchy tune) about clean underwear.

As I sit in awe of her neat stacks and entertaining musical routines, I can’t help but envision when my four-year-old is twenty-four and she is folding laundry.

I can imagine her smiling to herself as she recalls our beloved Folding Time.  Maybe it will be the whiff of familiar laundry detergent or a pink washrag that triggers a cherished memory of her and I sitting side by side among our sturdy stacks, shared conversation, and laughter…lots and lots of laughter.

I almost missed out on this special bonding time because I wanted it done now and I wanted it done quickly.

I was this close to missing out on what really matters because letting my child fold laundry would  “take too long.”

And to think I almost missed out on making this beautiful memory because of being solely focused on the end result.

Folding laundry with my daughter. Who would have thought something so simple could make such an impact?

The beauty inside the fold is what I would have missed.

Just the thought of living my entire life without ever seeing her do the “Chicka Wa-Wa Underwear Dance” is enough to make me weep.

But thank God, I don’t have to….because things have changed, and I am just getting started.

Do you have any household tasks that you do with your child or teenager? If so, please leave a comment or email me using the “contact me” button. And if you don’t, there is always today. Instead of grumbling in misery while you cook dinner, clean the house, or shovel snow, why not grab a little friend and make a memory.

Look Up

While visiting Conner Prairie, I delighted my daughters by dancing with a "young gentleman" right outside the historical school house.

I often get pulled aside while out in the community to talk about my blog. And the number one question people ask me this about my Hands Free revelation is: “Where did this all start?”

Although I can remember the moment of my Breakdown-Breakthrough awakening so vividly that it still brings tears to my eyes, I cannot articulate exactly how I got to that point.

However, I can say with one hundred percent certainty that the Breakdown-Breakthrough moment resulted from two years of distraction overload.

With every “yes” to involvement in extracurricular activities and volunteer opportunities, with every buzz of the phone and ding of incessant email messages, with every mistaken belief that I could regain the time I was losing with my children, my breakdown came closer and closer; the price of distraction grew heavier on my shoulders and weighed down my heart. As I lost sight of what really mattered, the light and joy in my eyes diminished. My precious God-given talents were spread so thinly that they felt like burdens instead of gifts.

No longer could I ignore that voice in my head that said, “Something is not right. This was not how I want to live.”

Right before my Breakdown-Breakthrough moment in July 2010, I visited a particular place called Conner Prairie. While there, I had a profound experience that I believe was the spark that ignited my Hands Free revelation.

I can liken this experience to trudging through a dark, cramped tunnel and suddenly hitting my head on something. When I look up to see what it is, there is a rainbow; there is an answer; there is a way out of the mess I have made of my life. Yes, Conner Prairie was my saving rainbow that I knew I must grasp or I would surely drown.

Here is the story of the moment I saw the rainbow…

In early July 2010, my daughters and I drove north to visit family in Indiana during the girls’ summer vacation. One day we visited Conner Prairie, known as one of the nation’s finest outdoor history museums.

Conner Prairie is designed as a historical town complete with a one-room school house, a blacksmith, live baby animal barn, and a town doctor, just to name a few of the features.

Not only can you walk inside these structures, but the women and men that work there dress and speak according to the time period in which they portray. For a little girl who wanted to be one of “Pa’s” daughters on “Little House on the Prairie,” I was as excited as my daughters about this experience.

It was about mid-way through the tour when we walked into a beautiful two-story home. Inside, the women were making homemade noodles and pies. We could only stand in the kitchen for a moment before a pool of sweat (or perhaps it was drool) began to collect beneath our chins. We found reprieve in the quaint sitting room. Between the soothing pink salmon walls and the wide-open windows with fluttering white curtains, we were instantly cooled.  My daughters looked around at the old fashioned hats on display and then quickly went on to the next room to investigate.

For some reason, I couldn’t get my feet to move from this room. Although I could hear the giggles of the girls, the shuffling feet of the other tourists, and the voices of the noodle makers in the kitchen, I was overcome with the feeling of tranquility.

A warm breeze softly touched my face and solidified that I was in the most peaceful place I had been in a long time. Suddenly I found myself wishing an unrealistic dream, as if I was a little girl.

“I wish I lived here. I would love to live in this time, in this place,” said that longing voice in my head.

As I looked around to see what a day in this home might entail if my wish came true, I quickly noted what was not present from my current life.  I noted there was no telephone. Obviously, there was no cell phone, Blackberry, iPhone, or other communication device. No flat screen television to speak of, no computer or high speed Internet, no mouse or modem anywhere in sight.

Sadly, those were the things I noticed.  Those are the things I decided made this life so appealing to me.  And for a moment, I was a bit ashamed. After all, I lived in a beautiful home with all the communication “luxuries” that aided in the quick and easy completion of life tasks. And here I was wishing for something more…or actually, something less. Simply simple. How badly I wanted this beautiful life.

I finally moved from that brief escape from the reality of my life and walked on. But something had occurred to me in that moment: I may not be able to live here in this placid country home in 1822, but there is no reason why I can’t take aspects of this way of life and apply it to my own.

And that is when I took my first step into a Hands Free life. I grabbed my Blackberry and adjusted the sound to “all notifications off.”  And instantly, the beauty of that day was not littered with frequent buzzing, chimes, or rings. My focus and undivided attention stayed firmly planted on my daughters’ beautiful faces and inquisitive voices as they experienced this wondrous place with their fully present mom.

Later that evening I decided to check my Blackberry. Quite a few emails and calls had come in that day, but I hadn’t missed a thing.  And even more importantly, I hadn’t missed a thing that MATTERED.

That, my friends, is the best answer I can give in response to the question, “Where did this all start?”

By the grace of God, I hit my head on a rainbow. And when I looked up, I finally saw the light.

When is the last time you turned off all notifications your hand held communication device? Try it for a few hours. You might be surprised at the tranquility life holds when you choose to let go this one distraction.  And if you feel so inclined, click on the “share” button below and send it to someone else who might need to hear the words, “Look up, my friend. A rainbow awaits.”

It Only Takes One

A month ago my daughter tried to grow her own Christmas tree. Today I came out to discover this tiny white flower that somehow grew in the harshest of elements. It only takes one.

*Name has been changed to protect privacy

Last week I received an email message from a man living on the East Coast. It was the type of message that one has to read several times to grasp the full capacity of the words.

I felt the hairs on my arms stand on end at one point in the letter. But it wasn’t until a teardrop fell upon my hand that I realized these words were not simply meant for my eyes.

The author of this poignant email message graciously allowed me to write about his story.

I considered many angles on this particular post because there are many, many lessons to be learned from it. I typically have a clear message in mind before I begin writing each narrative. Most days, I have a Hands Free photo uploaded that I gaze at for inspiration. Usually I know exactly what I will be challenging my readers to think about.  But today’s post is not like any other because today’s story is extraordinary.

Today, I have decided to go Hands Free. I am just simply going to write. For if there is anything I have learned through this journey, it is this: The most beautiful, life changing messages happen when you simply let them.

So let them…

Paul* was working on Wall Street on September 11, 2001. He evacuated his building in time to tragically witness the second plane hit the South Tower.

Although he was told to walk along the East-West Highway towards Midtown, he began running with a colleague. Through the chaotic screams and cries of survival, Paul felt compelled to glance back at the South Tower. He watched in disbelief and agony as hundreds of people jumped from windows.

After about ten minutes of running, he and his colleague saw a woman in her late sixties in tears and too tired to move. They each took one of her hands and assisted her as they walked about thirty blocks.

Paul and his colleague ended up staying in Penn Station for two nights with the woman they helped. They learned her name was Margaret and she was an executive assistant for a company in New Jersey. She just happened to be in the area on 9/11 because it was her day off and she was visiting friends.

Margaret ended up inviting Paul and his colleague to her home in New Jersey until Paul could finally call a cab and get back to his apartment.

After several months of upheaval and disruption, Paul’s life resumed.

So where is Paul now? Well, Paul is working as a highly successful investment banker in New York City. Yet, with the success comes a price.

Paul is expected to work six days a week, typically until nine o’clock at night.

His boss typically sends him a ridiculous number of email messages in a weekend and expects them to be answered. Paul has been told that his department needs to bring in $200 million dollars by March. This means Paul is to “crack the whip” on the people he manages. It is not uncommon for employees to not only miss family birthday celebrations, but even graduations and funerals.

Paul does not complain. He is grateful he has a job. He knew this is what he signed up to do. Although at times he feels like he can barely breathe, he accepts that this is the environment in which he lives and works.

But what Paul does not know is that he has found a way to bring light into darkness. He has found a way to bring air into a suffocating space. He has found a way to pick up those in despair and carry them, carry them to safety; the way he reached down and saved Margaret from an early death.

How? Read on. And read carefully…

Paul sent an email last week to his staff of forty people. He asked them to provide the dates of birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and any other special occasions that will occur in their families between now and June.

Paul cannot defy his boss by allowing his employees to work less than six days a week, but he can ensure that a particular individual does not work past four o’clock p.m. on the days of special family events.

In addition, his department is going to send flowers and/or chocolate to the family.

Paul’s email message had one last detail. On the upcoming Monday, he would be attending the funeral of a very special woman he met on 9/11. Her name was Margaret.

I wish I could have seen the faces of the people reading his email that day.

I wish I could see the face of the young man whose dad shows up to his high school graduation after having missed so many other momentous events.

I wish I could see the face of the woman when her husband comes through the door carrying flowers and says, “Happy Anniversary. I don’t want you to ever spend another one alone.”

I wish I could see the face of the young lady when her mom comes home early to help her dress for the prom.

I wish I could see the little boy’s face when his daddy surprises him for his birthday and says with tears in his eyes, “I am sorry I missed your last birthday, but I am here now, buddy. I am here now.”

I wish I could see the faces of Margaret’s family when the man who carried their precious beloved through the carnage and chaos of 9/11 walks through the door of the funeral home.

I will not see those faces, but I have a feeling I know what that moment will look like.

It will look like a single beam of sun that somehow manages to shine through the darkest blanket of menacing clouds.

It will look like an exquisite sea barnacle clinging to a tattered piece of soiled driftwood.

It will look like a tiny purple flower that somehow managed to sprout through a crack in the cruel asphalt.

It will look like one chance, one possibility, one miracle, one beautiful and unmistakable Sign of Hope.

You will often hear me say that I am simply a messenger on this Hands Free journey. It is by the grace of God and the grace of Paul that I have this message to give. The message that kept me awake night after night until it was written is this:

You may not work on Wall Street. You may not have an unscrupulous boss. You may not have had to run through the streets on 9/11, but every single one of us has a chance EACH and EVERY day to bring peace into the chaos and light into the darkness.

Every single one of us has a chance to put what really matters smack dab in the middle of the distraction that prevents us from truly living.

It only takes one light.

It only takes one hand.

It only takes one…

To Save A Life

It might even be your own.

As I mentioned before, today’s blog post kept me awake until it was written. It only needed one revision (I average five revisions per post). The initial word count was 1111. I am simply the messenger for something and someone far greater than myself.  Help me spread this message by clicking “share” on the button below. It only takes one. Let it start with you.

A Lesson in the Little Things

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post called,  “The Magazine Gesture.” It described how simple, every day acts of kindness often mean more to people than extravagant gifts. Just to know someone is thinking about you can do more than simply brighten one’s day, it can impact someone’s life. Many of you wrote and told me of such experiences. “The Magazine Gesture” seemed to resonate with many readers.

This got me thinking about the little people in our lives. What do unexpected acts of kindness mean to them?

Right before the holidays, I had the opportunity to teach at my daughter’s preschool while the staff was treated to a luncheon. While there, I witnessed three acts of kindness created by parents for their child.

At the time, I didn’t know why I felt compelled to take pictures of these loving gestures, but I do now.

It is because these photos carry a message, and it’s a powerful one.

Children, just like adults, love unexpected little acts of kindness, too. Contrary to what we might think, these gestures need not require a large amount of money. They need not be electronic. They need not be the latest and greatest toys on the market.

They must simply come from the heart. (Sound familiar?)

And here’s a little tidbit: Children love to envision their parents thinking about them when they are apart…because there’s a good chance they are thinking about you.

Next comes the evidence. (As you know, I love displaying Hands Free Evidence that so beautifully illustrates the message of the day.)

Here is my story (and the evidence) of how something small can signify something big, in the eyes of a child…

As I stated earlier, I was acting as “teacher” for a precious group of four-year-olds. The regular teacher had left me with a detailed schedule that I was diligently trying to follow (although there were plenty of “little assistants” who loved to tell me what was coming next).

Around mid-morning, I announced that it was snack time. The children obediently went to their cubbies and pulled out their snack bags.

While most of the children immediately sat down and tore into their sacks, I noticed one little boy simply gazing at the front of his sack.

I went over to him and found him staring at this:

When look you look at this, you probably see a Christmas tree on a lunch sack.

When I look at this, I see the result of someone who went Hands Free for five minutes to bring a smile to her child’s face.

When a child looks at this, he sees this: My mom wishes she could be here to laugh and eat snacks with me. She is thinking about me. My mom loves me.

I only wish his mom could have seen the smile she put on her son’s face that remained there all morning long.

Shortly after snack, it was time to go outside for recess. As predicted, the temperature had drastically dropped during the night, so for the first time in the season children had colorful warm mittens and scarves, in addition to their puffy winter jackets.

As I helped children their zip coats, I noticed one little girl concentrating with utmost determination to insert something into the top of her mitten.

I walked over and saw these cute little pouches in her hand:

When you look at this, you probably see hand warmers.

When I look at this, I see the results of someone who took time to go Hands Free so her daughter could have toasty hands on a blustery winter day.

When a child looks at this, she sees: My mom wishes she could be here to hold hands and keep me warm. She is thinking about me. My mom loves me.

I only wish this mom could see the smile she put on her daughter’s face that remained there throughout the entire game of tag.

After recess, it was time for lunch. The children excitedly washed their hands and sat down at their tables.  I watched as an array of character lunch boxes were opened. As I walked around commenting on their favorite princess or superhero, the contents of this lunch box literally stopped me mid-sentence:

When you look at this, you probably see turkey meat, a cheese stick, garden peas, and orange segments.

When I look at this, I see the results of someone who took time to go Hands Free so his child could have a wholesome, nutritious lunch.

When a child looks at this, she sees: My daddy wishes he could be fixing lunch for me right now. We always eat healthy foods together. He’s thinking about me. My Daddy loves me.

I wish this dad could see the smile he put on his daughter’s face as she gobbled up every single morsel that he lovingly packed.

In two short hours in a preschool classroom, I witnessed three loving gestures created by parents that enabled their children to feel their love, despite being apart.  Furthermore, these acts were displayed in “languages” that children could see, feel, and understand.  The message was as clear as the twinkle reflected in the children’s eyes: You are loved.

These gestures did not happen by accident. Someone made a point to let go of distraction long enough to make these gestures happen. These acts of kindness took time, thought, and a bit of effort.

But judging by the joyful, pleased, proud, and amazed expressions on the most adorable faces, I would say this to every parent, aunt, uncle, grandparent or friend of a child:

Do it.

Do it for the first time.

Do it again tomorrow.

Do it when you are “too tired.”

Do it when you are  “too busy.”

Do it when you think it won’t matter.

Do it because it will matter.

Do it because it does matter.

Do it because the person on the receiving end of your simple act of kindness is a little guy or girl who makes your life worth living.

What are some of little acts of kindness that you do for your child or loved one? I would love to hear about them. Share your ideas by leaving a comment here or send me a picture by clicking the “contact me” button under my logo.  Better yet, get busy figuring out what you can do to make a little person smile today!