The Steps Toward Home

This week I’ve described how making small steps to let go of distraction is an effective way to begin living a Hands Free life.

In Monday’s post, “The Steps of a Hero,” I described the progress that occurred in the life of one of my devoted readers from NYC.  And maybe when he read the post, he viewed progress he had not yet realized.

I hope so.

Why? Because a critical part of the Hands Free transformation process is to acknowledge and appreciate your own personal progress. To look back and say, “Look how far I have come!” or “Look where I once was and where I am now.”

Doing this enables you to see the way in which small steps become lasting habits and life-changing routines, all of which allow a person to grasp what really matters.

I have discovered that I most often see evidence of my own Hands Free progress when I am not looking for it. Such an experience happened to me recently that I feel is worthy of sharing.

This is my story…

As you may recall, I recently took a week off from publishing my blog in honor of my children’s spring break vacation.

Because my Breakdown Breakthrough occurred in July 2010, this was my first ever Hands Free Vacation. I knew it was a good sign that I decided I would not try to publish posts during the week. A year ago, I would have pressured myself into figuring out a way to get those post published, regardless of the cost.

Another good sign was what occurred on the morning of departure. Or perhaps I should say, what did NOT occur on the morning of departure.

Normally, I am stressed out in a frantic rush to get everything packed…compulsively trying not to forget a single thing. And the simple fact of the matter is this: When you are stressed out while packing, you tend to pack stress. You tend to leave the driveway with stress written all over your face; it drips from your words, and churns in the pit of your stomach for hours.

But this time, things were different. Thank God, things were different.

On the morning of my first ever Hands Free vacation we leisurely ate breakfast. We slowly packed the car. I didn’t make constant calculations such as, “If we leave right now, we will get there at four o’clock.” Instead of playing games with time, I actually heard my Hands Free inner voice say, “And remember, if you forget something, you can just pick it up at the store when you get there.”

(Have I mentioned that sometimes I wonder who this rational, (semi) laid back person is living inside my body?)

I was actually smiling as we pulled out of the driveway.  I felt lighter not wearing stress and having not packed stress.

Upon arriving at our vacation place, I was relaxed. I was grateful. I was happy. I had my family surrounding me, and there was nothing that I “had” to do.

Each day I took a long run or walk on the gorgeous beach that has been my home away from home since I was thirteen-years-old.  But instead of feeling the need to cover a certain amount of miles in a certain amount of time, as I did in the vacations of the past five years, I savored the journey. I patiently looked for dolphins.  I jotted notes in the little writing book I carried. I looked for unusual shell “treasures” to take my daughters.

And I reminisced about the hundreds of walks I had taken on this sand with my sister and my mom since I was a teenager.

My mom recently told me I did not develop my compulsive, type A personality until I went to college. So it makes sense that as a teenager my favorite pastime at the beach was saving live sand dollars that had washed up on shore. I couldn’t bear to see a helpless sand dollar withering in the sun. Regardless of how long it took or how many times I had to stop along my run, I put every washed up sand dollar that I passed back into the water.

But over the years, I had stopped saving the sand dollars. In fact, I had stopped noticing them at all. I had become so driven that I only focused on the path ahead and stopped savoring the journey along the way.

But on the last day of my first Hands Free vacation something happened. And it made me realize my days of delighting in the journey were not over. In one clarifying moment, I saw my progress; I saw just how far I had come.

As I ran along the vast flat sand, something caught my eye in a tide pool. At first, I ran past it, but found that I could not continue running until I turned around.

I realized it was a starfish, and it was missing a ray (limb). It looked like it was dead, but I felt compelled to be certain.

Despite having to get my running shoes wet, I waded in and reached for it.

The first thing I did was turn the little guy over. I was expecting to see no movement.

But amazingly enough, its tiny tube feet waved at me.

Although it looked like it had been violently churned in saltwater or perhaps was the partial snack of a small predator, it was alive. And it was fighting to survive.

As I held that resilient critter in my hand, I suddenly realized just how far I have come on my Hands Free journey.

Nine months ago this was me, struggling to breath in the chaos and upheaval that I had created for myself. I had gotten so far from home, so far from the joy in my soul that makes me feel alive and whole.

As I looked at this forlorn creature and whispered, “Don’t worry. I will save you,” tears rolled slowly down my cheeks. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the life-changing moment I had experienced last July. The One who cares for me had lifted me up from my displacement and placed me gently back home, just as I was about to do for this starfish.

And now, nine months later, here I stood in the tranquility of the sunlight, just having experienced my first ever Hands Free vacation.

My hands that were once holding tightly to distraction were now free to…

Built sandcastles with my children

Color pictures of princesses

Hold the hands of the people I love the most in this world

My mind that was once consumed with an excessive to-do list was now free to…

Memorize the beautiful expressions of my daughters’ joyful faces

Describe my most favorite memories of vacations on this very beach

Express gratitude for every God-given gift in my life

My eyes that were once transfixed solely on the task ahead were now free to…

Observe every vibrant hue in the flowers along the bike trail

Gaze patiently into the blue water until a majestic dolphin leapt with joy

Count every freckle on the precious noses of my children

Instead of feeling like I am always running late,

Instead of feeling like I can’t quite catch my breath,

Instead of feeling depleted and empty,

Instead of feeling lost with no direction,

Instead of feeling as if each day is a blur,

Instead of feeling half alive…

I am free to laugh,

Free to play,

Free to celebrate,

Free to let go,

Free to breath,

and free to exhale,

I am finally free to live.

And as I gently placed this beautiful creature back into the calm, sanctuary of his water home, I realized my progress. I realized that nine months of Hands Free “baby steps” had taken me somewhere.

Those small steps toward living a Hands Free life had taken me home.

Have you noticed any progress you’ve made on your own journey to live Hands Free? If so, I would love it if you leave a comment or send me an email. And if you are just arriving at this place, I just happen to have a list. See yesterday’s post, “Where To Begin,” and just pick a step. You may be surprised how far one small step can take you on your quest to be Hands Free.  Join “The Hands Free Revolution.” We are just getting started and there’s so much life to grasp!

Where To Begin?

My seven-year-old sang “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” to two beautiful babies when our family recently volunteered at a group home.

Yesterday I described the Hands Free transformation of one of my loyal readers. Through a series of what he refers to as, “little steps,” he has covered monumental ground.

Although he and I have different backgrounds and live very different lives, we both share the desire to grasp what really matters.

In order to do so, we both started this journey by taking the first step.

And today I want to erase any doubt in your mind that you are not equipped to take this step.

I want to impress upon you that anyone who wants to be Hands Free can be Hands Free. Regardless if you are high-strung Type A or low-key Type B (or somewhere in between), a Hands Free life is within your grasp.

So today is a List Day.

You may know by now that I am a list maker. Lists are powerful. Lists serve as reminders. Lists are powerful reminders that tend to stick with you far longer than long-winded paragraphs.  And if this Hands Free Mama hopes that if anything sticks with you in today’s entry, it something, just ONE thing, from The List.

I will be overjoyed if one person reads the following list and says, “That’s it? That is how I begin to go Hands Free? Well, I can do that. In fact, I am going to start today.”

So to that person, and anyone else who is interested in seeing what a Hands Free Step looks like, here is my ever-growing list (with links to further information on how each can be played out).

Little Steps That Equate To Big Steps Towards A Hands Free Life:

-Go to the local library as family and leave your phone in the car.

-When driving, place your phone in the glove box.

-Do a household chore WITH your child (i.e.; folding laundry, doing dishes, cooking or baking).

-Create a Saturday morning ritual like making pancakes or going to IHOP.

-Turn phone to “all notifications off” when you are with your family.

-Sing along with the radio or a CD instead of talking on the phone.

-Enjoy the peaceful solitude of your inner thoughts.

-Keep a small notebook with you to jot down great ideas, the dreams for your life, and special memories.

Encourage someone.

-Stick up for someone.

-Have a “tech cleanse” for a day, two days, a whole week…maybe a lifetime.

-Think through accepting new commitments and determine if they coincide with what really matters to you.

-Go outside your comfort zone to join your child in something he or she loves to do.

-Spend the day with your family and do not look at the clock once.

-Turn off your computer from the time your children get home from school until they go to bed.

-Ask your child to make a sign to place on your computer. One dear reader shared that her daughter’s sign says, “Do not use, until you snuggle“.

-Make cookies or muffins with a loved one, and then give them away.

-Let your child bake or cook dinner without fear of making a mess or following a recipe.

-Share a favorite childhood memory with someone you love.

-Allow yourself to simply think with no distractions.

-Read the Bible.

-Give yourself Five Good Minutes of meditation a day.

-Read a bedtime story to your child.

-Have “talk time” with your child at bedtime.

-Go on a nature hike looking for usual and beautiful sights like clouds and bird nests.

Ask your parent a question about his or her early years and then listen, really listen.

Close your laptop when your loved one walks into the room.

-When your child or spouse walks in a room, greet him or her with happiness and eye contact.

-Every night think of five things you are thankful for with your child.

-Express gratitude to someone who was (or is) an angel in your life.

-Do something you loved as a child, like sew or play an instrument.

-Find a volunteer opportunity to do as a family.

-Write a love note to your child just because.

Ask your child, “What do you want to do today?” and then do it.

-Practice waiting joyfully.

-Contact that person who keeps popping into your head time and time again…there’s a reason he or she keeps coming to mind. Find out what that reason is.

-Sit down on the couch and cuddle with your child or significant other. (Remember this line? “No matter how much she wants to, needs to, or would love to….my child cannot kiss a moving target. 

Well, that is the end of the list for now. But with each day that I strive to go Hands Free, a new idea arises. And believe me, I will write about it.

To those of you who previously joined me on this journey, I know you have your own Hands Free “baby steps” to add to the list (and I would love to hear them).

To those who are just arriving at this place, now you have a starting point. Your Hands Free journey begins today. Simply choose something from the list that appeals to you then watch as something beautiful, something unexpected, unfolds before your eyes.

With each “baby step” you grasp a piece of what really matters within your hand. And there is nothing little about that.

Do you have any Hands Free baby steps to share? If so, please leave a comment or send me an email.  Read the list again, circle it, star it, and invite someone to join you as you take your first step into a life worth living. Better yet, share the list with someone you love. Invite them to be your Hands Free partner, and take the step together.



The Steps of A Hero

I have had the privilege to witness the Hands Free transformation of one of my readers, an investment banker working in New York City.

Every time I see message in my inbox from my long distance partner in this Hands Free journey, I look forward to reading the latest developments in his personal quest to grasp what really matters.

It began with a message three months ago. He described the cutthroat environment in which he worked. He described the permeating greed that both motivated and destroyed. He described the cost of working long hours to those he held dear. He spoke of the absence of pure and simple respect and human kindness in the world around him.

And when he wrote to me he said, “I am not sure why I am writing you all of this.”

But I knew why.

Although he was technically writing to me, the message he wrote was to himself.

I know this because last July, during my Breakthrough Breakdown moment, I stood where he stood…

It is the moment you realize what you once thought was important is not.

It is the moment you understand what mattered before does not matter now.

It is the moment you begin to see the truth so clearly that it can no longer be denied.

It is the moment you begin to see that living the way you’re living now is not the way you want to live anymore.

And then either you decide it takes too much effort to change what you have been doing for so long. Or you decide enough is enough, and you begin to make changes.

Which is exactly what my friend did.

Since that first email message he sent to me, I am thrilled to report…

-He went on a three-day vacation without his two Blackberries and phone for the first time in three years.

He came to the defense of his colleague after he was blatantly disrespected and mistreated by their boss.

-He offered his employees time off so they could attend special family occasions, like birthdays and graduations. (After years of being expected to simply miss them due to work.)

– He took his son to the library to see what the infamous literary character “Froggy” was all about.

And the latest from the man who worked seven days a week for most of his adult life? Well, I will let you read it for yourself:

“I no longer work on Sundays.  I only work on Sunday night after everyone is asleep. I started a “Breakfast with Owen” on Sunday. Today we went to Whole Foods and the hot bar. Next Sunday, we are going to the local diner. And then the local IHOP after that.”

The pictures he included of himself with his adorable little son on a few of their adventures brought tears to my eyes…happy tears, of course.

I was amazed at how far my friend had come on his Hands Free journey in such a short time. Yet the words he used to describe his latest Hands Free actions were “little steps.”

From where I stand, I don’t see little steps. I see his accomplishments as huge, monumental, life-altering steps. I wonder if his wife and sweet baby boy might feel the same.

However, I find myself clinging to the term “baby steps.”  I love the fact that “baby steps” or “little steps” implies my friend is working toward a goal. He might not know what that goal is, but he wants to keep growing toward something more.

What is equally as important is the fact that it most often requires “little steps” to reach a goal. After all, when you have been living much of your adult life holding on tightly to “distraction, “ it is naturally going to take time (and baby steps) to let go of those detrimental habits.

And what stands out above it all is the fact that he took those first steps. We all know the first steps are often the hardest.

I recently told him he was my hero. He refuted and told me I was his hero.

But I will tell you why he is my hero and could possibly be yours.

This man gives people like me hope. If HE can take steps to live a Hands Free life…this man who works in a cutthroat, money hungry industry for a quick-tempered boss in one of the fastest paced cities in the world, then so can I.

Although he and I are different in many ways and live thousands of miles apart, we use the same Hands Free tactics to “let go” of distraction in our daily lives. And through these tactics we have both experienced beautiful, life-changing results.

What this means is grasping what matters is a universal desire. Letting go of distraction is a goal many of us want to reach in our time here on this earth.

Whether we put on a suit to go to work or rarely get a shower before the day is over, whether we go all day giving sales pitches or avoiding those who pitch a fit, whether we get paid for our work in dollars or paid in hugs, we all share the same realization. We realize time is fleeting. We realize there are no guarantees in life. We realize there is no certainty that tomorrow will even come. And because of this realization we know we better grasp what really matters while we can, in order to witness all the “Sunset Moments” happening around us before they are gone forever.

And we are learning that in order to fully grasp something with our heart and hands, we must first let go. Letting go of distraction begins with baby steps. Baby steps, my friends.

And no matter where you come from or where you have been, we all have it in us to take our first step.

Think about you how you are living your life. Do you hold on to distraction more tightly than you grasp what really matters? Does the daily distraction in your life cause you to miss moments that you won’t be able to get back? Do you have a desire to take your first (or maybe your second, third or fourth) step into a Hands Free life? Feel free to use the “contact me” button and write down your thoughts. It might just become the Breakdown Breakthrough moment that will begin your journey. Then tune in tomorrow. A list of Hands Free Baby Steps will be awaiting your arrival.

A Major Turn Off

A few weeks ago my husband and I went to a concert at a relatively small venue. Our seats were on edge of the second floor, which overlooked the area in front of the stage. The concert had not yet begun. People were milling around as they waited. But instead of talking to the person that had accompanied them to the concert, they were doing something else.

My husband pointed to the view below, “Look down there. Look at what every other person is doing.”

In the hands of more people than we could count were the glowing screens of hand held communication devices.  And standing next to them was a person who might as well be invisible.

When did this happen? When did the people on a screen become more interesting, more engaging, more desirable to interact with than the living, breathing person standing next to us?

When did the need to check our communication device become a debilitating addiction, not being able to go five minutes without looking at it?

I am far from being as Hands Free as I want to be, but lately I have been doing some major soul searching about my own use of technology.  And more importantly, I’ve taken a long hard look at the cost of distraction on my life and on the lives of the people I love the most.

I feel this topic is so critical that I actually spent the whole week writing about it. (See “You Caught My Eye,” “Eyes Unseen Words Unheard,” and “This May Hurt A Little,” for the series on eye contact.)

This is the first time since I started this blog that I stuck to one particular Hands Free topic for the entire week. It appears that lingering on this topic allowed us to dig deeper. It allowed us time to process the information and begin to implement some changes. Sticking with the topic of eye contact for several days proved to be productive, and in some cases, life-changing for many.

One reader’s comment captured the essence of what so many had expressed to me privately through email. She said, “Wow…when tears are falling down your cheeks as you are reading this, it tells you it’s time to make some changes in your life.”

I am grateful for the honesty you shared in comments such as that. I am grateful for the candor of your observations, as well as the newfound awareness you described. I am particularly grateful for the hundreds of times you “shared” one of the eye contact posts in an effort to bring greater human connection to someone else’s life.

Have I mentioned that I am grateful I am not alone in this journey?

You never cease to inspire me.

You never cease to encourage me to “raise the bar” on my own personal quest to be Hands Free.

That is precisely what happened when one reader shared a thought-provoking article published in “The Wall Street Journal” entitled, “Your Blackberry Or Your Wife,” written by Elizabeth Bernstein. The article is highly worth the read, but it is the author’s short checklist that has resonated deeply with me:

10 Signs Your Devices Are Hurting Your Relationships:

1. You can’t get through a meal without emailing, texting or talking on the phone.

2. You look at more than one screen at a time, checking email while watching television, for example.

3. You regularly email or text, other than for something urgent, while your partner or another family member is with you.

4. You sleep with your phone near you, and you check your email or texts while in bed.

5. You log onto your computer while in bed.

6. You have had an argument with a loved one about your use of technology.

7. You text or email while driving.

8. You no longer go outside for fun.

9. You never turn off your phone.

10. When you spend time with your family—a meal, a drive, hanging out—each person is looking at a different screen.

I heaved a huge sigh of relief when I realized I engage in less of these behaviors that I did a year ago, but I am not letting myself off the hook. The Truth Hurts…but the Truth Heals.

And the truth is…there are still major changes I need to make.

And the other, undeniable, critical truth is…I only get one shot at being a loving, connected and present parent, spouse, and human being.

And there is no time like the present.

I have decided to do a Tech Cleanse (as described by Ms. Bernstein) this weekend. I am turning off my hand-held communication device and my computer on both Saturday and Sunday.

(Did I type that correctly? My hands began to shake as I wrote that…oh yes, The Truth Hurts.)

Internet connection…off. Human connection…On.

Will you join me?

I guarentee your emails will be waiting there Monday morning. But your family? Well, they can only wait for so long.

Haven’t they waited long enough?

Re-read the checklist entitled: “10 Signs Your Devices Are Hurting Your Relationships” once again. Answer honestly. Do you see a need for change? If so, pick one behavior from the list and decide what you can do tomorrow to begin to change (or eliminate) it. On the flipside, do you know someone who could use a wake up call about his or her excessive use of technology? The Truth Hurts, but The Truth Heals. You know what to do.

This May Hurt A Little

I’ve spent the last two posts writing about making eye contact with your children or loved ones when they speak to you.  Why? Because the personal connection derived through eye contact plays a critical role in grasping what really matters.

I guess you could say that on the Hands Free Mama Scale of Importance, looking someone in the eye is at the top, possibly right underneath, “Putting Distraction In Its Place.”

In the past several days, many of my readers have expressed that they “get it” in ways they did not before.

One reader shared this insight, “I am uncomfortable thinking about it, but is spot on. I feel like it even hurts my children’s abilities to have conversations because they try to hurry up or tell the story in one breath for fear I won’t pay attention very long.”

Another reader said, “I got my children back after a week away for spring break with their dad, and I looked them in the eyes and I talked to them. They still acted like teenagers, but we connected in a more real way than we have in a long time. Thank you for reminding me how much eye contact and sincerity go together.”

One reader had this beautiful story to share: “I was getting ready to respond to a bunch of emails that have been hanging over me when my daughter came in the room to sit with me before bed. When she began talking, I put the computer down. Because I wasn’t distracted by email, she spent ten minutes talking about the book she’s reading that she loves.”

There is something powerfully reinforcing about those baby blues (or greens or browns) staring back at you that just makes want to keep stopping to look. Furthermore, when you give your loved one focused attention (rather than divided), conversation and connection are more likely to beautifully unfold.

The reader responses I have recently received indicate we have experienced a new awareness (or have been reminded) of the importance of eye contact. And due to this heightened consciousness, some of you are making changes accordingly…for that you should be applauded.

But being on this Hands Free journey has taught me something. And that is this:  Sometimes it is necessary to go deeper. Sometimes it is necessary to go where it gets a little uncomfortable. Sometimes the brutally honest truth is the one you don’t want to acknowledge, but NEED to acknowledge. These kind of truths are the ones that make me pause and take a deep breath before I hit “publish.”

But that is how I grow. That is how I become a more loving and connected parent, spouse, and human being. That is how I get one step closer to grasping what really matters on this journey.

So here’s the honest truth. And by putting it out there, I begin the process of change, growth, and improvement.

I am talking about The Fake Glance. And for quite some time, even as I began my Hands Free journey to grasp what really matters, I used it. I used The Fake Glance until my four-year-old called me out on it.

And I am thankful for the day she did, and maybe you will be, too.

This is my story…

My four-year-old daughter is still very much in the “Watch me, Mama” stage. She wants me to watch her slide down the slide. She wants me to watch her jump on the couch. She wants me to watch her make the ever-challenging letter “W.” She even wants me to watch her put raspberries on her fingers while she imitates Ursula the Sea Witch.

So when my daughter would say, “Watch me, Mama,” I would glance up. I would give her ten to fifteen seconds, (which I justified by saying that was more than I used to give her in my Pre-Hands Free days), and then I would go back to the task at hand. And since I am being honest, sometimes I looked away from my child to go back to looking at something truly insignificant on my Blackberry.  Oh yes, The Truth Hurts.

Somewhere along the lines of one Fake Glance after another Fake Glance, my daughter began saying something more than simply, “Watch me, Mama.”

My observant little girl who knew her mama was faking it said, “Watch me, Mama. And watch me the whole entire time, Mama.”

Watch me the whole entire time.

This is opposed to, “Watch me for a split second and then go back to what you are doing and miss the part I wanted you to see, Mama.”

How’s that for a Wake Up Call?

Suddenly I fast-forwarded ten years. If I keep up The Fake Glance, will she even ask me to look at her life anymore?

Or will she realize that she can’t compete with the daily distraction that consumes her mother’s focus and attention and simply give up?

I already traveled down that dismal path in “Someone Will Notice,” if you want to know the painfully honest answer to that question.

Granted, part of me wanted to shrug off my daughter’s new phrase by thinking, “What a new cute saying!” or “What a funny little girl I have!”

But my Hands Free Inner voice (the one that doesn’t take any BS) said this, “Listen up, Rachel. You have just been given a gift. Don’t waste it.”

I immediately started doing something I hadn’t done since my children were babies.

When my daughter said, “Watch me,” I stopped what I was doing and sat down. I gave her my full attention to watch the complete action she wanted me to see in its entirety.

The first few times I did this she seemed surprised. She peered into my face as if to see what was going on. It appeared as if she thought I was sick and needed to take a seat and catch my breath.

But once I smiled and said, “O.K! I am ready,” she looked excited. In fact, she looked more than happy; she looked overjoyed.

I remember the time she showed me how she could run half way across the kitchen floor in her pajamas with attached “feet,” fall to her knees and slide the rest of the way across.

Seeing her slide across the kitchen floor may not be on my “Top 10 things I want to see in my lifetime,” but it was important to her, and I knew she wanted me to see the whole ENTIRE thing.

In my front row seat at the kitchen table, I applauded. I cheered. I complimented her form. I praised her distance. I marveled at her bravery.

Then she did something I was not expecting. She came over and wrapped her little arms around my neck and whispered, “Thank you, Mama.”

I was sold.

The Fake Glance was officially buried.

The Authentic Gaze was embraced.

Instead of taking a quick (and often forgettable) mental snap shot of my daughter’s “performances,” I vowed to start taking video. Invaluable video. Setting the lens of my eye on one beautiful moment to capture forever.

In fact, one of my favorite invaluable videos was taken recently when my husband asked my four-year-old to make her own NCAA picks.

He went through each college or university but instead of saying “Michigan or Tennessee,” he said, “M or T?”

There were A LOT of picks to be made.  And she was into it. I could’ve easily slipped away unnoticed to straighten up the house, do some laundry, or catch up on email. But instead I sat there and the invaluable video began rolling.

I witnessed her choosing the letter R over the letter N because “Rachel” starts with R.

I watched as her eyes rolled upward and scratch her curly head as she thought through each “important” decision carefully.

I heard a short story about her Uncle Brad triggered by the selection of the letter B.

I witnessed her finding she had the power to change her mind and select a different letter by saying, “No, I don’t want M. Actually, I choose S.”

I watched my husband’s surprised facial expressions as she amazingly managed to select a mighty fine final four line up of Duke, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, and Louisville.

And the background of this invaluable video was my laughter, my joy, and the sound of my heart beating with happiness.

I often say I am simply the messenger on this Hands Free journey. And today the message that comes from something far greater than me is this: Bury the Fake Glance. Adopt the Authentic Gaze. Go beyond the mental snap shot and roll the video. Capture the once-in-a-lifetime moments that develop in front of your eyes.  These are the moments you will play over and over in your mind when you are old and gray. These are the moments you will tragically miss if you look away.

And the side bonus is the fact that the star of the show will thank you…in ways you cannot begin to imagine.

Do you have any habits that could fall into the category of The Fake Glance? Think about your daily interactions with your loved ones, friends or colleagues. Is there something you do that they could call you out on? Why not call yourself out? Bury the old habit, the one that prohibits connection, and embrace a new one…one that creates the lasting bonds to a beautiful relationship. Please click the “share” button if you think greater personal connection is a message worth spreading.

Eyes Unseen Words Unheard

To look at these eyes or the screen of my phone? Is it really a choice?

Yesterday I wrote about discovering the importance of looking into my children’s eyes. Many of you shared that the post brought you a new awareness you hadn’t considered. I love it when that happens.

As I thought about this topic a bit more, I found myself imagining how my children must feel when I am “too busy” to stop and look at them when they speak to me.

I suddenly realized that considering another person’s perspective is a Hands Free tactic I often use. Thinking about how someone else might feel in certain situations helps me to grasp what really matters time and time again.

So last night I decided to recall a time in my life when I was repeatedly denied eye contact by the person to whom I was speaking.

It didn’t take long to recall someone who fit this description perfectly. I closed my eyes and placed myself back in front of his looming desk.

There I was, a young woman who was just starting out in the teaching profession. I lacked the confidence that I later gained with each passing year of experience.

Because I was teaching special education classes and earning my Master’s Degree in that field concurrently, I was required to meet with an academic advisor on a regular basis.

Talking to this person was highly uncomfortable for me. In his presence, I felt small. I felt unintelligent. I felt awkward. I felt embarrassed.

At the time I did not know why I felt such negative emotions when speaking to this man, but today the reason is as clear as the pain is still real…

This man would typically look past me when we talked.

This man would seldom look up from what he was doing when I spoke.

This man would often take calls in the middle of our conversation.

This man appeared too busy to be bothered by anything I had to say.

How did his lack of eye contact make me feel? Unimportant and worthless.

How many of my thoughts and ideas did I share with this man? As few as possible.

Did I turn to him with a classroom problem? No

Did I share my classroom achievements with him? No

When I had something worthwhile to say, I stopped saying it to him. Instead, I turned to someone who listened…truly listened, with her eyes, her heart, and her soul.

I’m sure you see where this is going.

Through my Hands Free journey I have learned The Truth Hurts, but The Truth Heals. Furthermore, I can’t REALLY change my behavior unless I am truly honest with myself.

Thinking about standing in front of this man and trying to talk to his darting eyes and disinterested gaze still causes a sharp pang of sadness. Yet, I also have a newfound awareness.

It’s now Honest Truth Time.

How does my child feel when she is trying to talk to me and I respond with a quick “uh huh,” a passing nod, or a “we’ll talk about it later”…or worse, when I don’t acknowledge her at all because I am “too busy” to look up?

And if I really want to give myself a wake up call, I put it this way: How would I feel if my daughter remembered her childhood like this?

My parent would typically look past me when we talked.

My parent would seldom look up from what she was doing when I spoke.

My parent appeared too busy to be bothered by anything I had to say.

My parent would often take calls in the middle of our conversation.

How did her lack of eye contact make me feel? Unimportant and worthless.

How many of my thoughts and ideas did I share with her? As few as possible.

Would I turn to her with a problem? No

Would I share my achievements with her? No

When I had something worthwhile to say, I stopped saying it to her. Instead, I turned to someone who listened…truly listened, with her eyes, her heart, and her soul.

To think that my child would ever look back on her childhood and describe it in that manner devastates me.  It makes me feel physically ill.  Yet, I know better than to tell myself that it can’t happen because that is pure denial.

Why? Because in the age of electronic and communication overload, the people physically standing in front of us (our children, our loved ones, our friends) often drop from existence the minute the phone rings.

The live person instantly takes second priority at the sound of an incoming text or email.

The phone has become a socially acceptable reason to stop people mid-sentence and say, “Just a minute,” implying that whoever is on the phone is more important than they are.

Furthermore, how many times does “just a minute” never come because we get distracted and forget to come back to it?

And that person who is instantly demoted to second place when the phone rings? Well, she notices. He notices.  Whether they are five-years-old, twenty-five-years old or eighty-five-years old, people tend to notice when they are dropped from the conversation like a meaningless, unimportant and irrelevant bother.

It may sound harsh, but when I see myself as an impressionable, young twenty-three year-old teacher, I see my child who is simply asking for one thing: to be listened to and respected for a brief moment in time.

Yes, I knew my advisor was a busy man. Yes, I knew his job was important. Yes, I knew many people were relying on him. But when I spoke, there was no reason why for that brief minute he could not stop, look me in the eye, and listen.

We all have busy lives. We all are trying to make ends meet. We are all doing important things, but stopping for just a few moments when our child, our spouse, or our loved one speaks…is that really asking too much? Will the world come to an end if we turn off the phone while we eat dinner as a family? Will there be endless negative consequences if we turn off our computer for the two-hour period leading up to our child’s bedtime? Will we really miss something that important if we turn off the phone for thirty minutes to watch our child play at the park? Are we really THAT busy?

Shortly before my Breakdown Breakthrough moment, I turned all notifications off on my phone when my children were present. On most occasions, I reserve the time to use my Blackberry and computer when they are either in bed or in school. This has made a tremendous impact on my connection to them and in my communications with them.  I am not saying it has been easy. The temptation to be “connected” to the Internet and social media is strong. It takes real self-discipline to say “no” to electronic distraction.

But is it worth it? Let’s try looking at it this way:

Someday my daughter’s recollection (I pray) will read like this:

My parent looked at me when we talked.

My parent looked up from what she was doing when I spoke.

My parent refrained from taking calls when we were having a conversation.

My parent was never too busy to listen to what I had to say.

How did her attentive eye contact make me feel? Important and worthy.

How many of my thoughts and ideas did I share with her? As many as possible.

Would I turn to her with a problem? Absolutely

Would I share my achievements with her? Always

When I had something worthwhile to say, I always wanted to say it to her because she was someone who listened…truly listened, with her eyes, her heart, and her soul.

Whether your child is four-months-old, four-years-old or twenty-four-years old, it is not too late to start listening, really listening.  All it takes is this: when your child speaks to you or asks you a question. Stop. Look and see the color of their eyes. Absorb their words. Listen. Really listen…the way you like someone to listen to you.

Simply by looking at your child when he or she speaks produces the feelings of love, importance, and value.

Turn off your phone when you are in your child’s presence and give the gift of your eyes…it is undoubtly one of the greatest gifts you can give your child.

Is it really asking too much?

Think back on a time in your life when your words were not heard. When you wanted to see eyes but got the top of someone’s head. Think about a moment when you were speaking to someone and you were dismissed by their phone. How did that make you feel? Now think about your child or your significant other. When your loved ones speak to you how do you respond? Put yourself in their shoes. Do you love them enough to listen…really listen? Now press the “share” button below. Give someone a gift today.

You Caught My Eye

Time in the car with my daughters has become quite valuable. My new Hands Free way of life means that all notifications on my Blackberry are turned off, which means no distracting “dings” of incoming emails, phone calls or text messages. It means no intrusions from the radio or DVD player. What it means is conversation. What it means is laughter. What it means is connection.

In fact, the thrice-weekly twenty-minute drive to my oldest daughter’s swim practice that was once viewed as a monotonous task is now considered a gift.  Because I pick her up right after school, this time in the car has provided an ideal opportunity to hear about her day.  I consciously avoid being on ‘autopilot’ behind the wheel. I ask questions. I listen and respond to what she says. In fact, our lively conversation has become such a normal practice during the drive that my four-year-old daughter has begun to interject her own preschool experiences into the conversation. (This is usually where the laughter comes in.)

On this particular day, we planned to stop by a place of business where three kind workers had become particularly special to our family.

My seven-year-old recently made her very first batch of mini loaves all by herself to present as a gift.

I enjoyed watching as she experimented with different tasty toppings, like cinnamon, mini chocolate chips and walnuts.

Once baked, she lovingly wrapped them and secured them with a colorful ribbon, representing the true gifts that they indeed were, created from her own two hands.

Just looking at her creations caused me to recall a few particular moments as a teacher when a proud boy or girl presented me with something homemade. The delighted look on their faces made it appear of if they were holding a shiny bar of gold rather than a lumpy loaf of bread or misshapen baked good.

We now pulled into the place of business, and I escorted my four-year-old daughter to present the baked good to her special person. I quickly noted that there were no customers, so I was relieved that we would not be interfering.

My oldest child took the other two loaves and presented them to the other special recipients by herself.

As soon as we got back into the car I asked, “So what did they say when you gave them the bread?”

I was expecting a sweet story of love and thanks, but that is not what I received.

What she described in the following sixty-seconds was so maturely observant I had to check the rearview mirror to see if a seven-year-old child was sitting there strapped in a pink booster seat.

“Well,” my daughter began, “Mrs. Jones bent down to my size, said thank you and gave me a nice long hug.”

Then her voice lowered a few decibels, “But Mrs. Smith didn’t say anything. She just took it from me.”

And what she said next was the part that got me, “She didn’t even look in my eyes, Mom. She was too busy.”

My heart sank. But it was not because of the reason you might expect.  My heart did not sink for my daughter. And it did not sink for Mrs. Smith. The reason my heart fell to the deepest darkest place of shame and sadness was for myself.

How many times was I too busy running around to look into the eyes of my child? How many times did I scurry through the house in the morning rush not even once looking into my husband’s eyes? How many times did I neglect to look into the eyes of a passing stranger and smile? How many times did my daughter make the same observation she made of Mrs. Smith about me?

I could no longer convince myself that children are too young to notice. I had my evidence.  And it came straight from my daughter’s mouth. These were words I would not forget: She didn’t even look me in the eyes, Mom. I made a promise then and there. I promised myself that those words would change me. And they have…

When my child speaks to me there is nothing I am doing that is more important than looking into her eyes.

When my child has something to say, the other “things” I am doing can wait while I give her my undivided attention.

I don’t want my child’s memory of me to be a mother who was “too busy” to look up from what she was doing when her daughter spoke to her.

When she speaks, I want to see her eyes. And she deserves to see mine.

For she is my child; she is my gift; she is my precious bar of gold that I once held in my hands. And for that, she deserves to see my eyes.

They say the eyes are windows to the soul.  And due to daily distraction, I often walk right past the beauty inside those windows, and I neglect to see the heart of what lies inside.  Is there a pair of eyes that you could look into more today than you did yesterday? Whether it is your child, your spouse, your friend, or a stranger, take a look today. You may see something beautiful that you walked right past before.

How Kind Of You To Notice

A few weeks ago my blog subscription service was interrupted without my knowledge.  A few kind readers emailed to let me know that although I had posted a new entry, they had not received it in their inbox.

This meant that when a post did not appear for many days, someone noticed.

This means a lot to a gal who just started publishing her Hands Free journey three short months ago and thought her parents might be the only ones who would ever read it.

When I received the emails from readers who noticed there was a problem, it was like being back in elementary school on the days when you stayed home due to illness.  It felt so good when your teacher or a friend called to say, “Where were you? We missed you today.”

I never fathomed I would have readers who actually looked forward to my posts.

I never imagined in my wildest dreams I would have readers all over the United States, let alone Germany, Canada, Japan, Moldova, Cayman Islands, Great Britain, and Indonesia.

I never expected to be completely and indescribably supported, encouraged, and inspired to continue this Hands Free journey I am on.

I never expected that I would need to let my readers know there would be a lull in publication so they wouldn’t wonder where I’d gone.

I never expected these things, but as I have learned on this incredible journey, the most meaningful moments come when they are not planned; the most extraordinary gifts come when you least expect them.

Thank you for the meaningful moments and unexpected gifts you have given me.

By now you may have guessed where this is going…I am taking a week off to grasp what really matters by fully enjoying my family while my children are on their spring break from school.

And I know you understand because you are with me on this.

In the meantime, I have provided a few links to some of my earliest publications that you may have missed…

Catching Rainbows

The Way I See It

Untapped Treasures

Dear Distracted Dad

Collecting Hellos

I also thought it might be appropriate to provide the link to my most shared publication to date, “The Angel Impact.” Many readers have told me that they go back to this post. And every time they read it, they think of a new angel with whom to share it.

I will be back soon with plenty of new Hands Free experiences to share with you, my loyal partners who so thoughtfully notice when I am gone.

With a grateful heart,


Regret No More

This is my visual reminder that tomorrow has no guarantee. Find an object that reminds you to live life without regret and keep it where you can see it.

A few years ago I received a phone call that brought me to my knees. In fact, the news was so unbearable, so devastating that I crawled into the corner of my daughter’s closet, as if hiding there would make it go away.

The painful words I heard on the other end of the phone were words that my brain could not believe or understand.  Even now, many years later, I find them incomprehensible.

As painful as it is to imagine, chances are I will receive another phone call like that in my lifetime.

In a post entitled, “I Have Today,” I wrote, “There are no guarantees that life will be as wonderful as it is today.” And I know that it is true.

I know I should prepare in some way for that heart-breaking day, and I have spent several years trying to figure out how.

But it is difficult, if not impossible, to fully appreciate each and every wonderful part of one’s life until that part is no longer there. You know the saying, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.”

I thought about that a few weeks ago when my dear neighbor and friend walked into a dinner at our church wheeling her beautiful mother who is currently being rehabilitated for a stroke that impaired her ability to verbally communicate.

Shortly after the stroke, my tearful friend said, “It has been so hard not to be able to talk to my mom every day. We always talk every single day.”

And then she added something that I can’t seem to forget.

My friend explained, “Ever since I can remember, my mom has always said, ‘I love you today’ because you don’t know what tomorrow will bring.”

I remember feeling a blanket of warmth surround me when my friend spoke those words. Here is a mother who had always told her daughter, “I love you today” just in case she was not able to say it the following day. And now this mother has lost (temporarily, I pray) her ability to say those words.

The first thought that came to my mind upon learning of this mother’s beautiful daily ritual was unexpected. My first thought was not one of sadness, nor one of disbelief. My very first thought was this: “No regrets. This extraordinary woman has no regrets.”

How? Because this incredibly wise and loving mother told her child every single day that she could, “I love you today.”

I was in awe. I was inspired. I was moved beyond words.

This mother had prepared….prepared for the heart-breaking day when you find yourself in the corner of a closet praying to God that you are dreaming and will soon wake up.

How do I prepare for tragedy? How do I prepare for devastating loss? How do I prepare for indescribable pain?

For me, this is one answer: No regrets.

Regret No More.

And now it is time for a list. Lists are concise. Lists are powerful. Lists are undeniable. Lists serve as concise, powerful and undeniable reminders.

I have made a list of regrets. Some are mine. Some are yours. Some have been gathered through an informal process in which I call, “Hands Free Mama Research.”

I regret…

Worrying about opinions that didn’t matter

Accepting less love and respect than I deserve

Too often telling my children ‘not right now’ when they asked me to play

Not looking into the eyes of my children when they talked to me

Ruining a perfectly good day with a bad attitude

Complaining about everything while people who truly suffered complained about nothing

Taking my eyes off my child

Choosing my own needs over those who needed me

Thinking some people are less important than other people

Not saying, “I love you,” when I had the chance

Holding a grudge until it was too late.

I regret…

Every self-depreciating name I called myself

Putting unrealistic pressure on myself

Never knowing God

Figuring out what really mattered after it was too late

Not listening enough and talking too much

Not saying “Thank you” more often

Not saying, “I’m sorry” more often

Ignoring that little voice in my head

Not following my dreams

Not turning off my phone in my car when my children were present

Ignoring God’s calling on my heart

Not making amends with those I had wronged

Not taking time to appreciate the unappreciated people who made my life easier

Neglecting to ask my parents their favorite memories while I still could

Not encouraging my children every chance I got

Not letting my children help me make dinner before they stopped asking

Neglecting to help that person when they were down and out

I regret…

Shortening my lifespan by the choices I made

Rushing through life

Not getting out while I still could

Not embracing my body’s imperfections

Not taking the time to rejoice every single day

Worrying instead of praying

Not living in the moment

Pretending I was fully present when I really wasn’t

Failing to recognize and appreciate every single gift in my life

Taking my loved ones for granted

Taking my life for granted

What about you? What would your personal “I Regret” list look like? Make one today; no one has to see it but you.  Then slowly begin crossing out a “regret” as you begin changing the way you live…with no regrets. Just imagine the overwhelming joy you will feel on the day when you can look at your list and see that it has dramatically shortened.

Before I conclude this post, I feel compelled to share with you what happened after I crawled out of my daughter’s closet on that fateful day.

I was given a gift.

I call it a gift because it has proven to be the most powerful “Regret Preventer” in my life.

A grief stricken father stood before a crowd of mourners who gathered to celebrate the short, yet extraordinary life of his four-month-old baby girl.

This father spoke with undeniable strength and steely resolve for the words he spoke contained a truth so painful that it drained the color from his face.

As he spoke these words, I held my breath. And at that moment, his reality was etched across my heart.

With remarkable composure he said, “Hug your child every day because you never know when it will be the last.”

Now is your chance. Take one regret and begin living life in such a way that allows you to wipe it off the list. Whether it is to make amends, stop belittling yourself or your child, love your body for everything it has endured, stop talking or texting on the phone when your children are present, or to put your life-long dream into motion…whatever that regret may be, begin erasing it today. You have the power to prepare for what may come. You have the power to Regret No More.

The meaning of those eight words is so incredible they bear repeating: You have the power to Regret No More.

And that, my friend, is an incredible gift.

Before you start writing your list of regrets, please press the “share” button below. Every one of us is living with the heavy burden of regret. Lighten someone’s load today; tell him or her the time has come to Regret No More.

Reach Out Reach Up

Two months ago, I asked you to take my hand. Something incredible has happened.

My journey has become your journey. And in the process, your pain has become my pain.

I am humbled each time you place the struggles of your life in my hands.

Through your words, it is apparent that going Hands Free to grasp what really matters can open the tender places in our hearts that we often try to ignore. Going Hands Free causes us to take a good hard look at painful truths that often stay buried.

You have told me of these tender places. You have told me of these painful truths…

You told me you wished you had reached out before he took his own life.

You told me the cancer has spread.

You told me your spouse is leaving you and your children.

You told me your recent divorce means you only have your child part time.

You told me that being your parent’s caregiver is sometimes more than you can bear.

You told me your worries rob you of sleep.

You told me your childhood was painful.

You told me you finally allowed yourself to grieve the loss of your parents.

You told me you don’t want to be held captive by perfection any longer.

You told me you want to be a better mom.

You told me you want to be a better dad.

You told me you cannot breathe through the suffocation that is your life.

And after you revealed your scars, you asked me to pray for you.

And I don’t take that request lightly.

For I have a story. And I feel compelled to share it with you, as you have shared your pain with me. Let it bring you hope. Let it ease your pain. Let it be the answer that brought you here today.

Here is my story…

*Permission granted to use authentic names

A few years ago, my friend’s daughter, a kind-hearted three-year-old nicknamed “Doodle,” became very ill. Over a period of several months, *Mary and Mike took her to every doctor imaginable. When the tests and examinations came back “normal,” the doctors said that there was nothing wrong with her. Mike and Mary were not satisfied with this; they knew something was terribly wrong.

I stopped by Mary’s house to drop something off one afternoon. Doodle’s fever had just shot up, and Mary decided she was going to take Doodle to the emergency room despite the nurse’s suggestion to bring her to the doctor’s office.

I will never forget Mary’s resolve in that moment. In the most terrifying moment of her life, she was brave, strong, focused and determined.

Without a single quiver in her voice, she declared, “I am taking her to the hospital, and I am not leaving until they figure out what is wrong with my child.”

Although she spoke the words to me, it was more of a declaration. It was if she drew a line in the sand; the fight begins here. And Doodle would not be a casualty of this unknown enemy attacking her.

There was nothing that would stop this mother from making her baby well again.

As Mary ran back into the house to gather her lifeless daughter into her arms, she suddenly stopped.  She shouted one last thing to me.

With conviction she yelled loud enough for the whole neighborhood to hear: “Tell people to pray.”

This request was not an after thought. It was a mother’s plea. When stripped of her ability to protect, there is only one answer.

I immediately drove to my church and informed my pastor and anyone else who happened to be there. Then I went home and bombarded the “world” with an email message about a special little girl named Doodle whose life-threatening illness had become a medical mystery. What happened after I hit “send” was amazing.

Doodle took a hold of people’s hearts, and a miracle unfolded right before our eyes.

I was flooded with responses. From everything to “How can we help?” to “Have they tried this?” I was offered doctor names and meals.  Some even asked if I would include a picture of this precious girl that they could not get out of their minds.

Over a five-day time span, I sent updates. Each day, I would receive email messages from strangers all over the country asking if I would add them to the distribution list.

They did not know this girl, but they felt like they did. In a way, it was their own child, their own niece or nephew, their own grandchild whose usual rosy pink cheeks were now the color of a gray sheet. It was their child who trembled with wide eyes whenever the door to her hospital room opened for fear of yet another blood draw or catheterization. It was their child who fought for her life as doctor after doctor scratched his head in bewilderment.

And one day when Mary called me from the hospital, I told her of the outpouring of love and prayer that was coming to her child, but she already knew.

Through her tears, she spoke with certainty, “Rachel, we know. We know. I can’t explain it, but we can feel the power and the comfort of the prayers being said for us.”

On day five of her stay, while performing a chest scan on Doodle, a technician made a mistake. She accidently revealed a portion of Doodle’s kidney, which immediately lead to the diagnosis and successful treatment of a kidney infection.

To those who had come to love this girl, to those who had come to hope for this precious child, to those who had closed their eyes and whispered her name too many times to count, what had happened during the chest scan was no mistake. What had happened was a God-given miracle.

I have the privilege of picking up this healthy, extraordinary child from school each day. It is almost like a dream in slow motion as she runs to my car and the sunlight bounces off her curly dark hair. She is always smiling. Always. This is my daily gift. She is my living, breathing symbol of “hope” in the purest form.

From the moment I started writing this blog, Doodle’s story keeps popping up in my mind. But I wondered, “Why would anyone else want to hear this story?”

It wasn’t until your Hands Free messages starting coming in. It wasn’t until your own life stories of despair and pain caused tears to drip on my computer.

What do I have to give them? What do I have that will ease the pain, help them see there is light; there is hope?

I have the story of Doodle. For it is a testament to the power of reaching out and reaching up.

This is the poem I wrote for Doodle’s on her fourth birthday, shortly after her miraculous recovery. But it could just as easily be yours.

Have you ever been held in an embrace so warm
That you did not want to let go?
Have you ever seen a sunset so beautiful
That you did not want to see it set?
Have you ever heard a song so soothing
That you wished it could play forever?
Have you ever studied someone’s face so intently
That you see it perfectly when you close your eyes?
Have you ever loved someone so fiercely
That her name is written on your heart?
Have you ever prayed for something so hard
That you hear the plea in your sleep?
If you have ever loved,
If you have ever prayed,
If you have ever hoped,
So hard
That angels could hear your voice,

Then you know the story of Doodle.

Whether you are battling a difficult divorce, a debilitating physical condition, or your own vicious inner critic, know there is hope.

Whether the battle you fight is small or whether it is big. Whether it is a public battle or a private battle. Whether you think you have a chance, or whether you think you have already lost. Know there is hope.

Even in the most dark and desolate hole of despair, there is an answer.

Reach out. Reach up. Ask for help.

Ask so loudly that the angels can hear your voice.

Miracles happen. They really do.

Draw your line in the sand. Fight. Fight for what you love, even if that means fighting for yourself.

Reach out. Reach up. And don’t let go.

I have only one challenge for you today. Click the “share” button below. Someone in your life needs this message.  Someone you know is waiting for this message. And if this is your message…my dear friend, if this is your message, you know what to do. Reach out. Reach up. A hand is waiting to hold you.