What I Really Think

In a moment of frustration, I envisioned flushing the receptionist's pink phone down the toliet. What must our children think of our phones?

Last week I was ready to check out of a medical office with my seven-year-old daughter. It was visit #4 in a series of medical appointments in a short time period. We both were drained physically, mentally, and emotionally. We just wanted to go home.

But I have been to the doctor’s office enough times to know that check out procedures never go as quickly as I hope.

I am accustomed to waiting while the receptionist takes appointments or checks out other patients.

But I have never had to wait while the receptionist sends a text message on her pink phone.

Until this day.

I cleared my voice to remind her we were standing there.

Still texting.

I rustled the papers in my hand to remind her we were standing there.

Still texting.

I resorted to the heavy sigh to remind her we were still standing there.

Now reading the text, then laughing to herself at the text.

My blood was boiling now. But did I say anything? No. I simply stewed in my own anger and resentment for being completely ignored and disrespected.

And what came to mind was a story of a two-year-old boy that one of my readers sent me recently:

Last week I was sitting in the floor playing trains with my two-year-old son. While he was setting up the track, I was on my Blackberry doing nothing important, just wasting time. He reached up, grabbed my phone, and in a very frustrated tone and said, “No, Mommy. Play with ME.”

As I stood watching the receptionist texting away, I felt just like that two-year-old boy. I wanted to grab that woman’s phone and say, “No, Lady. Pay attention to ME.”

In fact, I was to the point where I wanted to pick up that pink phone and slam it against the wall. I would have loved nothing more than to flush it down the toilet. I yearned to tell her how downright rude and inconsiderate she was being.

And then suddenly it hit me. I felt the cold hard truth wash over me like acid on my skin.

So how do you like it, Rachel? How do you like it when you are completely ignored and disrespected by someone doing something meaningless on a phone? There are times when your children could say the very same thing about you.

Particularly before I became Hands Free, but even now, on my not-so-good days, my children need me and do not have my full attention. Even now, there are times when they stand before me and I am distracted. Even now, I can be just as rude and inconsiderate to them as the lady with the pink phone.

The truth hurts, but the truth heals.

I did not say anything outwardly to the texting receptionist, but I sure had a lot to say on the inside.

And I bet children with parents strapped to their phones like oxygen tanks have something to say, too.

I imagine their inner dialogue may go something like this:

Why must you talk on the phone while you drive?  Don’t you want to talk to me?

Why must you keep your phone at the dinner table? Isn’t this supposed to be family time?

Why must you constantly check your phone? Don’t you know that every time you look, I lose you?

Why are the people on Facebook more important than me?

Don’t you know what vacation means?

Why must you risk my life and your own life by reading emails while driving?

Don’t you know that texting while driving is like driving with your eyes closed? Why would you do this? Why?

Have you forgotten how to say hello when I come in the room?

Have you forgotten how to say good-bye when I get out of the car?

Why did you come on my school trip when all you do is interact with your phone instead of me?

Why do I become invisible when the phone rings?

Why don’t you ask me a question once in awhile?

Why don’t you pay attention to me?

Am I that boring? Am I that uninteresting?

Don’t you know I feel forgotten?

Can’t you see that I am standing here waiting for you to acknowledge me?

Don’t you see what you are missing?

Don’t you see what you are missing?

And do you want to know what I REALLY think?

Here’s what I really think…

I want to smash your phone into a million pieces.

Because it has robbed me.

It has robbed me of conversation.

It has robbed me of connection.

It has robbed me of memories.

It has robbed me of your presence.

It has robbed me of your focus.

It has robbed me of your attention.

It has robbed me of your love.

Your phone has robbed me of you.

That’s what I really think.

And so now you know.

What are you going to do about it?

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Last week I spoke of living in realness. I presented the notion that it is not too late to start over. Now is your chance. Whether your child is seven months old, seven years old, or seventeen years old, it’s not too late to consider the amount of time you spend on your phone and make long-term changes. Whether your phone usage is rarely, often, or compulsive, you still have a choice about when to use it.

One more thing…If you have ever been ignored by someone using a phone or if you have ever ignored someone because of your phone, click the “share” button below. Let’s spread this critical message. Together we change the inner dialogue of a child… maybe even today… maybe even a child you love.

Holding Imperfection

This week my posts have focused on living in realness. I have described how the act of acknowledging and expressing my true feelings has been a critical part of my journey to grasp what really matters in life.

Today I share an experience that describes the inner peace and wholeness that can only come from embracing our scars and accepting our imperfections. And furthermore, that our mistakes of the past should not prevent us from living the way we want and deserve to live in the present.

It is never too late to make changes.

You are never too far gone to come back.

You are never too tarnished to be made new.

You are never too broken to be made whole.

It is never too late to start over.

And on this particular day, Easter Sunday, it seems like a fitting day to speak of miracles and new life.

May you find significance and hope in the words to follow…

I recently was blessed to meet a captivating woman and artist. A few weeks ago, I visited her home to select a piece of her extraordinary artwork.

While there, she candidly shared her own story. She has graciously given me permission to share it with you today.

Several years ago, Catherine Partain hit rock bottom. Emotionally, spiritually, financially and mentally depleted, she was merely a shell of her former self. During that desolate time in her life, she felt an unmistakable calling to make crosses.

And so she did. And it became her life mission to make crosses unlike any other.

Catherine’s crosses are original works of art; each one possessing intricate detail and design that tells a compelling story that speaks to the soul. When held in the hands of the destined owner, the cross unexplainably calms hurts, doubts, and worries deep inside the heart. And through this calming peace, a clear vision of a brighter future is experienced; hope is found.

You would think an object that holds such tremendous presence would be made of polished silver, priceless gold, or perhaps smooth, unblemished wood.

That is not the case.

Catherine’s crosses are made from that which is jagged, ruined, tarnished and otherwise useless.

Catherine’s crosses are made from what most people would describe as waste, trash, unwanted and undesirable material.

Catherine’s crosses are made from scrap metal.

Catherine’s reason for using scrap metal to create the crosses is explained so eloquently in a recent article written by Naomi Jo’el Glover:

“When asked why she uses only scrap, Partain is quick to say, ‘Because I was that scrap.’ For Partain, the scrap represents the human soul, particularly her own—dirty and unclean and then redeemed through the cross. ‘Before this redemptive journey I had done everything wrong but realized I could be forgiven and made new,’ Partain says. ‘Now, the ugliest pieces I find are my favorites. I will reach down under the grime to get those burned, twisted pieces that you would at first think to pass over.’

It’s never too late to start over.

During my recent visit to Catherine’s home, I walked back and forth perusing the crosses that majestically lined walls of her entryway.  As if my feet were being lead, I kept coming back and standing beneath this one. I was drawn to it. In my head one of my favorite Hands Free terms came to mind, “Perfect Imperfection.”

I looked at this cross that was so far from perfect in its material and in its form. Yet, it was the most beautiful cross I had ever seen. I could see every scar, every blemish, as well as the rough, tarnished edge. I could see beautiful realness.

I felt compelled to hold it against my chest and weep. Instead, I took the substantial, yet exquisite, cross off the wall and simply held it in my hands. It felt like home.

I looked at it in wonder and amazement knowing this immense symbol was once scrap, discard, waste. And now, because of its imperfections, it had become something tremendously meaningful and valuable.

It’s never too late to start over.

I remember the day I painfully admitted that my life had become that of a movie played in fast forward. I realized I was literally watching my life go by, not playing an active role in any of the parts that matter; I call those parts, “Sunset Moments.” I was missing my Sunset Moments one by one, never to be retrieved again.

On that painful day I got “real” with myself was the day I crumbled; it was the day I succumbed. My life as I knew it became a discarded piece of scrap that by the grace of God would be made new.

With the words, “I won’t live another day this way,” my new life began.

When I hold this heavy Cross of Imperfection in my hands, my heart feels light. If discarded trash can be made into a divine symbol of grace, love, forgiveness and redemption, then there is hope for me; there is hope for you.

And on this blessed Easter Sunday, may the thought of miracles and new life fill your heart with possibilities that only come when you allow yourself to live imperfectly, yet oh so beautifully, in realness.

*For information on obtaining one of Catherine’s extraordinary crosses, please go to her website: http://crossesbycatherine.com

Take a Look In My Closet

My friend, Lori, doing what she does best.

A few years ago, I had a small group of women over to my home for dinner. My husband and I had resided in this location for about six months, and I had enjoyed getting to know these particular ladies and wanted to know them better.

I will never forget when one of the women inadvertently opened the closet door instead of the pantry to discard her trash.

Much to my embarrassment, an enormous accumulation of “crap” fell from the sky. She protected her face from flying cookbooks, outdated school directories, headless Barbie dolls, school projects, half finished scrapbooks, and yes, even a dirty sock.

“Oh my gosh, I am so sorry!” I gasped.

I scrambled to uncover her, hastily brushing off the stale crumbs stuck to her forehead that had fallen off the completely over-used recipe for Mom’s Banana Bread that had also descended from the closet.

I will never forget the look on her face.

Relief.

Pure and simple relief.

She looked me in the eye and said, “You don’t know how happy this makes me. Thank God, you aren’t perfect after all!”

I hugged her tightly and we both laughed.

Although I hadn’t yet experienced my Breakdown Breakthrough to begin living “real,” the notion that I appeared perfect (until someone saw the contents of my closet) sat on my shoulder gently reminding me that it’s perfectly OK to be imperfect, in fact, most people welcome it; most people actually embrace it!

But it is not easy to show people the contents of your closet, the messy, unsightly, most unbecoming parts that we can hardly bear to look at ourselves, let alone allow anyone else to see.

I recalled this incident vividly when a former classmate, dear friend, and fellow blogger recently made an announcement.

She posted this message on her blog, “Wisdom Comes Suddenly”:

I’m headed in a new direction here at Wisdom Comes Suddenly, and I hope you’ll like this chapter as much as you’ve enjoyed previous escapades, because this chapter is…um, well to be honest, it’s REAL.  Really…real.  It’s begins with a new affiliate relationship I’ve formed with a company I blogged about one year ago named “Celebrate Calm“.  They specialize in teaching parents behavioral techniques for intense and/or special needs children, i.e. Gifted, ADHD, ODD, OCD, Anxiety Disorders, Asperger’s, Autism, Sensory Integration Disorder, and other learning or emotional disorders.  That being said, I think their techniques are so common sense, they would work on any child.

So here comes the real part: Sara is a special needs child, which would be the first time in 5 years I’ve said that out loud.  I like to refer to her as “high needs,” because for some reason, I find it easier to say.  It’s ambiguous; ambiguous can be comforting when you climb a mountain with a child, only to look up and see another standing in your way. We live with the fuzzy hope that each mountain will be our last.

Sara’s diagnosis list is so long that it truly deserves its own post, and I promise to share that journey in the very near future.  For now, I can tell you she is simply a very intense child who defies all common parenting logic.  We are not alone in parenting an intense child, this much I’ve learned.”

I have been following Lori’s blog for several months now marveling at her brilliance and endless talents. Although I am not “crafty,” I enjoy her creative “20 minute” sewing projects that turn a piece of scrap into a sleeping bag for a doll (or a cat, if it is cooperative). I drool over her organic dinner menus and homemade pies that would give Paula Dean a run for her money. And I enjoy seeing Lori transform an ordinary room into something from a vintage bed and breakfast for next to nothing.

But most of all, I love the warm and fuzzy feeling I receive each time I am invited into the beautiful life Lori has created in a home where love always comes first.

And when I had a chance to look in her closet to see the messy, difficult, disorganized, and unpleasant parts of her life, I loved her even more.

As I read her words on my computer that night, I wiped away the tears. I applauded her courage. I admired her honesty. I anticipated her wisdom and her journey.

And being a writer in a public forum, I couldn’t help but think of Lori, the woman who had to push “publish” on that bad boy.

I can only imagine the hesitation, the deep breath, the anxiety, and the wonder.

Because once you speak the words, you cannot take them back. Being real is not the easy path.

But I would wager to say that every single person who reads of her new chapter feels a sense of relief.  And like my friend who saw the contents of my closet, a bit of the “thank-God-she’s-not-perfect-after-all” kind of relief. Maybe there is hope for the rest of us, after all.

It is difficult, painful even to discuss the challenges of parenting life. We often withhold information because we think people will judge us or that people will think we are bad parents, but by holding back, you are diminishing your chance to connect with someone who says, “I am going through this, too. Let’s help each other.”

Lori is creating a community. She began by putting herself out there, by being real. And now there is a safe place to lay your worries. There is a safe place to say, “I’m scared.” There is a safe place to say, “I am having a really bad day.” And there is a safe place to say, “Things didn’t quite turn out the way I had planned. Where do I go from here?”

And there will be my friend Lori, reaching out her hand providing encouragement along with humor, along with creative ideas like “I Promise” and “Ear Comforters” that work for her child and might work for yours, too.

Isn’t this what it is all about? Living Real equates to Loving Real. Building a community that allows for scars, blemishes, struggles and messy closets?

Isn’t it when we expose the imperfections that the healing begins?

Isn’t it when we stop hanging on tightly to perfection that we can truly grasp what matters?

Isn’t it when we open our messy closets that the joy, the laughter, and the love can find its way in?

Isn’t it when we show each other our scars that we love each other more?

I think so.

Could those of us reading today become a community of people who embrace and welcome realness? Could “The Hands Free Revolution” become a group of people striving to grasp what really matters by living real and loving real? It starts with me. It starts with you. Open your closet. Uncover your scars. Let the healing light shine in. And while you’re at it, spread the light to someone else by clicking the “share” button below.

There May Be Tears

On Valentine’s Day, my daughters and I put a little happiness in one of the most unsuspecting places for people who least suspected it.

We remembered those who are often forgotten. And the results were profound.

Our trash collectors were completely dismayed to find colorful bags of goodies sitting next to the trashcan. When we saw their reaction from our upstairs window, it appeared as though they may have never seen such a sight.

After the shock wore off and they realized the bags were actually for them, it was just about the most joyful expression I have ever seen on faces that seldom wear a smile.

A few days later, I found out that our mail carrier also had quite a reaction to her unexpected Valentine sack. A neighbor of mine found out directly from the mail carrier how she reacted when she discovered her treats in our mailbox that day.  A handmade thank you note and cookies from my daughters brought her to tears. Brought. Her. To. Tears. Really? That is all it takes to touch someone deeply?

Well, in that case, treats for the forgotten and underappreciated will be happening more often around here.

In fact, the girls and I will be placing Easter baskets in the most unsuspecting places for people who least suspect it…again.

Something tells me that even though they received a treat at Valentine’s Day, they will not expect to find an Easter basket next to the trashcan and in the mailbox.

Luck like that doesn’t typically happen twice.

But we’re making sure it does.

Would you care to join us?

The Dollar Store is a great place to start…

My oldest daughter proudly used her own money this time because she has learned that even small hands and inexpensive things can mean a lot to someone else.

My youngest supervised from the cart. Eggs: check! Candy: check! More candy: Check!

They both loved stuffing the eggs all by themselves.

They made sure to add extra sprinkles and extra sugar because “Being a trash collector is hard work,” said my four-year-old.

They enjoyed making the signs so there is no confusion as to who the gifts are intended.

And whether or not we are around when Miss Jackie opens the mailbox, we’ll know. Oh yes, we’ll know.

There will be tears.

How many trash collectors and mail carriers do you think we could impact this week? How many unappreciated and often forgotten people could we make feel loved this week? Readers from New York to California, grab your kids, your neighbor kids, or your grandkids and show them that little hands hold the power to make someone smile. I welcome you to send me the joyful details and even pictures to rachelstafford@handsfreemama.com. Or post them on The Hands Free Revolution Facebook page. Now click “share” below and spread the good news that this is the week to go Hands Free To Make Happy Hearts! Who knows just how much you will touch a life? There may even be tears.

UPDATE: To see the results of our actions, check out “No Thanks Necessary.”

What Began As a Question

One night after her bedtime book was read and her “pretend story” was told, my four-year-old daughter asked, “Mama, can we have talk time?”

I don’t know why it would surprise me that she would catch wind of the Talk Time going on in Big Sister’s room every single night and would want some Talk Time of her own.

As you may recall from the post entitled, “I See A Bright Spot,” Talk Time is something I have been doing with my oldest daughter since she was three-years-old.

Every night we spend approximately ten minutes just talking about life. It is an incredible means of connection for the two of us and brings a comforting assurance to my daughter.

Don’t ask me why I never offered the same opportunity to my four-year-old. I’m sure I have justified it with: she’s not really old enough. Or she likes her bedtime routine just fine, why change it?

But being Hands Free means cutting the BS and being honest, sometimes painfully honest, with myself. And if I am being truly honest, the thought of having two sessions of Talk Time per night meant less “Me Time.” While there is nothing wrong with wanting “Me Time” after a long day of being a parent, sometimes there are things that matter more than “Me Time,” things that if you miss now, they will be lost forever.

So when my four-year-old stopped sucking her thumb just long enough to ask, “Can we have a little talk time, Mama,” I knew it was one of those powerful reminders that I should not, could not, ignore. I was being given the reminder to grasp what really matters. Right here. Right now.

So I did.

“O.K.” I scooted down deeper into the blankets, as if I planned to stay awhile.

“What do you want to talk about?” I asked the now very excited looking child cuddled next to me.

She looked at the ceiling and thought for a moment. “I don’t know. What do you want to talk about?”

For a moment I thought maybe I had been right; maybe she is not ready for Talk Time just yet.

But I knew I owed her at least an honorable try.

So I asked a question. For I have learned there is great power in questions. There is great potential for connection in questions. Questions can open doors that would otherwise remain closed. Within a question, a treasure can be found.

“Is there anything you want to know about when I was a child?” I asked.

She smiled and thought pensively while sucking her thumb and rubbing her nose.

Suddenly she smiled and asked, “What were your friends called?”

I told her the name of my very first best friend, who happened to be a boy. This piece of information brought a look of astonishment to her face as she thought to herself: Mama’s first best friend was a boy with red hair! Well, imagine that!

I proceeded to tell her how Matt and I played for hours in a tree house that her Paw Paw built with his own two hands.

Next came, “When was your birthday when you were little?”

The thought that my birthday was different date when I was little than what it is now gave me a chuckle. I went on to tell her about a wonderful slumber party I had when I was ten-years-old.

Next was, “Where do bunnies live?”

I am certainly no animal expert, but I was able to answer that one.

Followed by, “Where do magic bunnies live?”

I didn’t know the answer to that one, but no worries because she did.

She confidently informed me, “Magic Bunnies live in Bunnyland, which is way far away just past Lady Gaga’s apartment.”

Which, of course, lead to, “Where does Lady Gaga live?”

Our ten minutes of “talk time” concluded after I described the pink furry decorations that adorned the walls of Lady Gaga’s London townhouse (just guessing).

The next day I found myself anxiously awaiting Talk Time with my four-year-old. I wondered what her interesting line of questioning would be this time. I imagined we would again share another night of laughter and reminiscing.

But that night, instead of childhood questions about me, it was childhood questions about her.

“What did I do when I was a baby, Mama?” was the question that got things started.

Next was, “What kind of clothes did I wear?”

Which somehow lead to: “Are their sharks in Hilton Head?”

Which somehow lead to: “Do people have light up hair when they sing?”

Then, “Is Rapunzel real?” Ok, so there was a logical connection between questions once in awhile.

Finally we ended on, “How many boo-boos did I get today?” This involved counting and kisses. What better way to end a day?

We have continued Talk Time for two weeks now. She never ceases to amaze and delight me. Although every night brings a string of  original questions, there is one question that repeatedly comes up.

Every single night my daughter asks, “How much longer is Talk Time?”

My four-year-old loves Talk Time so much she doesn’t want it to end. And surprisingly, I have found that I don’t want it to end either.

I love it because it is not Talk Time, not in the way that it is Talk Time with my-seven-year old. I should have known that Talk Time with my second daughter would not be like Talk Time with my first daughter because they are different in so many beautiful ways.

My four-year-old’s version of Talk Time is actually Question Time. For ten whole minutes she is free to ask the questions that she ponders in that unbelievably clever four-year-old mind of hers.

And for ten minutes she has a totally focused, undistracted parent ready to explore and answer the questions of her heart.

Isn’t that what all kids truly long for…to have the freedom to ask the questions of life? Is there any better gift I can give my child than to allow her to ask questions without fear of judgment, without fear of being hurried along, without fear of being completely ignored?

My “Me Time” can wait. Right now there is a four-year-old with questions that only her parent can answer. With sadness I realize that someday she will have her own answers, and she won’t need mine.

Yet, part of me wants to believe that because I am answering her questions now (and through the next critical years), she may continue to turn to me for answers even when she has plenty of her own.

Although I try not to berate myself over things I wish I had done sooner, I can’t help but wonder what questions I may have lost as she fell asleep pondering them all by herself.

Yet, my loving Hands Free inner voice is quick to remind me that it’s not about yesterday; it’s about today, and the choices I make today.

Last night I made the choice to hold off writing a story that so desperately yearned to be written. Instead I had Question Time with my four-year-old.

She surprised me by saying she only had one question. And then with a trembling lip and teary eyes she asked, “Mama, when will we go to heaven?”

Before I attempted to answer the very best way I could, I said quick prayer of gratitude.

I may have missed a few questions along the way, but thank God, I didn’t miss this one.

And I don’t plan on missing anymore.

Whether it turns out as Talk Time or Question Time, try it tonight. Whether they are three-years-old or thirteen-years-old, begin the conversation. Put your own agenda for the night on hold and give your child ten minutes. You might be surprised as time stands still and the treasures within your child’s heart are uncovered. Don’t put this one off; do it tonight.

The Girl With The Broken Smile

Follow up can mean many things to this Hands Free Mama, but in today’s case, I am going to “follow up” on one of the tactics for living Hands Free that I previously wrote about.

This week, my posts will be centering around The Power of a Question. I will be describing how questions have played a vital part in my Hands Free journey to grasp what really matters.

Today’s question is one you may have wondered if you have been following my blog. The question: Whatever happened with that?

I think it would be a huge disservice to my readers if I neglect to provide follow up on tactics I suggest or stories I share. While some of the Hands Free strategies I provide on my blog could be used only once, I strongly believe that the more you use them, the more you will gain.

Personally, I love when my readers contact me to let me know the result of a tactic they used or how a Hands Free experience turned out for them. So today I am doing that for you. It has to do with the post that contains the picture that has been clicked on the most number of times on my blog. It’s about the little girl with the broken smile.

This is my story…

In the post entitled, “Hands Free Evidence,” I described how my seven-year-old daughter chose “Priscilla” out of  a large array of children from impoverished countries who needed an educational sponsor.  I will never forget the reason she chose unsmiling Priscilla when there were a multitude of vivacious cherub faces with smiles that beckoned her to choose them instead.

My daughter lifted up the picture of this pitiful looking little girl and declared, “I want to give her a reason to smile.”

Whoever said we can’t learn from our children?

Well, my daughter mailed her introduction packet to Pricilla four months ago. Along with the letter, she lovingly packed other items while also abiding by Compassion International’s rules for paper gifts only.

About once a week for four months, my daughter asked if a letter has arrived from Priscilla.

After saying, “No, I am sorry, not today,” and seeing her dejected face, my husband and I were starting to think that involving our daughter so heavily in this sponsorship may have been a bad idea.

But the best things come to those who wait, I am constantly reminded.

Last week a letter from Pricilla arrived.  It may as well have been a letter from Santa Claus himself by the look of pure joy and excitement on our daughter’s face.

We read through Pricilla’s letter that had been translated into English by her social worker.

Priscilla had answered the question posed by my daughter; we learned that her favorite color is pink, but “she likes to match red and white.”

She asked my daughter to pray that she (Priscilla) will become a good Christian and have good academic performance.

Priscilla offered prayers for my daughter to be blessed and protected throughout her life.

And Priscilla had enclosed a remarkably accurate picture of a tree and a bird.

But the part of the letter that my child held tightly in her hands and gazed at for a full two minutes was a recent picture of Priscilla.

For fourth long months, what my daughter thought about day and night was the status of Priscilla’s smile.

Next to her mother, the social worker, and a basket of fish they were selling to pay for educational materials stood Priscilla.

I watched as my daughter examined it closely and intently. I held my breath.  I was not sure how my daughter would interpret the expression on Priscilla’s face. To my eyes, Priscilla still looked sad, dejected, and hopeless.

But then again, I was the one who would have chosen one of the happily smiling children to sponsor, not the girl with the broken smile.

After thorough examination, my daughter looked up beaming.

She excitedly exclaimed, “Look! She is smiling a little more than she was before!”

My other daughter and I looked closely. She was right. If you looked very closely, there was the slightest curve in her lower lip.

Most of us would have missed it.

Most of us would have argued that the term “smile” is not an accurate description of the position of her mouth.

Most of us would have never tried in the first place to create happiness on a face so deeply etched with sadness.

Most of us would have thought Priscilla was a hopeless cause.

But through the eyes of the seven-year-old girl who had purposely chosen this forlorn child to sponsor, a smile was detected. And I have learned that when it comes to matters of expression, my daughter sees far more than I do.

Whoever said you can’t learn anything from a child?

We had given our daughter a chance to sponsor a child in a poverty-stricken country. She had grasped this opportunity in ways we had never imagined.

She attempted something most of us would not; she attempted to make the unsmiling smile. And she was doing it, one tiny curve of the lips at a time.

Last night my daughter asked if I thought someday she might meet Priscilla.

I could only get a little excited just thinking of the prospect. I imagined my daughter grown into a beautiful young lady opening her arms to an equally beautiful young woman who had traveled all the way from Ghana to meet her. And on her face was a smile so big that no translation was needed. Her smile said: Thank you for choosing me and making it your life mission to bring a smile to my face.

I realized that while I was daydreaming, my daughter had been waiting for a response.

I looked into her hopeful face and I said, “Yes. Yes, I do believe it’s possible you will meet her someday. After all, you are making Priscilla smile. That makes me believe anything is possible.”

Then I wrapped my arms around this wise, compassionate, and thoughtful child and added, “And I have you to thank for teaching me that.”

What lessons has a child or your child taught you about grasping what really matters? If you can’t think of anything, try seeing through your child’s eyes. Try listening carefully to your child’s words. Start by providing an opportunity for your child to help someone else. It might instead become a lesson for you. Please click “share” below if you think this a message worthy of spreading.

An Angel Reminder

This week I have been writing on the topic of reminders, the reminders that come when you don’t want them, but need them…and the unexpected reminders that come so powerfully that they bring you to your knees.

These valuable reminders, like the ones I have described in the last two posts, are vital to this journey, but the most critical reminders in a Hands Free life are the ones we give each other.

Whether this message finds you today as the one who gives the reminder or the one who receives the reminder, I ask that you read this post in its entirety. I believe it is one of the most important messages I have blessed to deliver in this Hands Free Mama space.

The impact of An Angel Reminder is immeasurable. It can be life changing. It can be the difference in going down and going up. An Angel Reminder can be the difference between holding on and giving up.

Today, An Angel Reminder is meant to be read. It is meant to be shared.

This is my story…

Recently I witnessed incredible sadness and turmoil in the lives of several dear people over the last three weeks.

One person faces the possibility of divorce. Another suffered a miscarriage. And while one woman prepared for reconstructive surgery resulting from breast cancer, another had a double mastectomy.

In times like these, it is difficult to know what to say to provide comfort or strength to those who are suffering. But to say nothing at all is simply not an option.

For the first time in my life, I did not struggle with what to say to these remarkable individuals. I did not have to take several deep breaths before I picked up the phone. I did not have to create a draft of my note before I wrote it.

This time, whether it was to write, call, or pray for one of these individuals, the words, “Remind Her” came to my mind.

Remind her…that is what you can do for her right now.

I have learned that these messages that come into my head must not be ignored; they must not be dismissed; they must be acted upon. For I am certain these are God-given messages that I have been blessed to receive and share.

So I took time to give An Angel Reminder to each one of these women: a woman who I have known since childhood, a woman I met two years ago, a woman I recently came to know, and a woman I have yet to meet.

I found myself thinking back on the things I reminded these extraordinary people. The reminders kept running through my head. Suddenly, I felt compelled to make a list of them. And when my list was complete, an undeniable, comforting and hopeful message appeared before me.

As I have said before, I am simply the messenger on this journey; these words come from something far greater than myself.  Perhaps this message is for you to receive. Perhaps this message is for you to give. Read it and you will know…

A Reminder

I am here to remind you that you are beautiful when the sun shines across your face; you are beautiful in the rain.

I am here to remind you that you are worthy when you rise above; you are worthy when you fall behind.

I am here to remind you are extraordinary when you are lovable and optimistic; you are extraordinary when you are withdrawn and angry.

I am here to remind you that you are my hero, not despite your imperfections but because of your imperfections.

I am here to remind you that you are doing the best you can; you cannot prepare for this, yet you are handling it the best way you know how.

I am here to remind you that when people look at you, they see a strength they hope can be found in themselves someday; you are beyond inspiring.

I am here to remind you…

there will be days when you need to cry

there will be days when you need to laugh

there will be days when you need to scream

there will be days when you need to forget

there will be days when you need to remember

there will be days when you can’t stand on your own

there will be days when you need to be reminded you are beautiful; you are worthy; you are extraordinary,

And I will be here to remind you.

In day or night,

In tears or joy,

I will wrap my arms around you,

And I will remind you.

Isn’t this what life is all about? Isn’t this what really matters? Reminding the weak they are strong…reminding the fallen there is help to stand…reminding the broken-hearted they are loved…reminding the lost they are found…reminding the forgotten  they are remembered. Isn’t this what really matters?

By now you know what end of this message you are on. Today, you are either the reminder or the remindee.

If this is your message, may you be reminded forty times over how beautiful, worthy, and extraordinary you are. May you be reminded each and every day of your life that you have purpose.

If this message is not your message, you have some reminding to do. Who comes to mind? Who needs to be reminded that she or he is not alone? Who needs to be reminded of every single remarkable quality he or she possesses? Who needs to be reminded of your presence?

And maybe someday, someday when you so desperately need it, someone will remind you.

Isn’t this how it works? Isn’t this how angels so beautifully leave their mark on the hearts of one another?

I think so.

Today’s challenge is simple. If this was your reminder, read it again; absorb the message written for you. May you be blessed throughout every step of the challenge you face. If this is not your message, you know what to do. Click the “share” button below and send it to the person who comes to your mind. Leave your mark on someone’s aching heart today. After all, this is what life is all about.

She Wore Blue

Yesterday I spoke of “reminders.” I am talking about the reminders that help us see what is truly important, reminders that reveal what really matters.

I need these reminders. They are critical to my journey to live a Hands Free live.

Yet, I have discovered that in the times I am most resistant to the reminders is when I most need to embrace them.

But what about the reminder that comes so suddenly it takes your breath away? What about the reminder that is so powerful it should instead be referred to as a “wake up call?”

What about the kind of reminder that brings you down to your knees?

Those kind of reminders are gifts.

I received one recently.

This is my story…

I have never been much into consigning clothes. I much prefer to give away my daughters’ practically new hand-me-downs to people I know in some way.

I have a strange delight in lovingly packing each item while reminiscing about how my child looked when she wore it or something she said or did in that outfit. Every garment has a story. And I just couldn’t bear the fact that these precious pieces of material embedded with valued memories would go to just somebody somewhere that I did not know.

So each season I would pack up the clothes that did not fit and would send them to someone I knew with a baby girl.  Some deliveries required a trip to the post office, some could be dropped off just a few doors down.

When you hand someone a box full of baby clothes that your child wore, you feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude from the recipient. It is almost like the person knows that part of what you hold dear is still in that box. Perhaps that is why people often send pictures of their baby or grandbaby wearing my daughters’ clothing.  Those pictures make my heart happy. To this animal lover, it is like when I know a stray puppy or kitten has found a good home.

But I must confess. I haven’t had the heart to give away all the clothing they have outgrown.

Even in the height of my Non-Hands Free years when I wanted to send away every single thing in my home that added more clutter and “stuff” to my overscheduled life, I could not bear to give away certain, special items.  So I kept them.

Now here we are. One child is seven-years-old and the other is four-years-old. My collection of “keepers” has become large.

It was time.

My dear friend was having a consignment sale at her home. The tagging procedure was simple. I could literally walk the items to her home.  And I could use the money I earned from the sales to buy the girls’ Easter dresses.

It was time.

So late one night I hung all the “special” items, I placed the index card with the price and the size in the proper location on the garment.  Things were going well. I was ready to do this. There were no tears. I was OK.

Then I got the last item at the bottom of the pile.

It was this little number.

Our oldest daughter’s aunt and uncle had purchased this beautiful dress for her, and in it she was the most exquisite miniature fairy in Halloween history.

I recalled the morning we took her (our only child at the time) to the children’s Halloween party in our neighborhood. We lived in Florida then. It was a typical day in paradise with mild temperatures and a surplus of sunshine.

I can still see her angelic round face as she stood in the grass trying to clap the bubbles that magically appeared before her.  In her eyes, I saw wonder, happiness, safety, and complete and utter contentment. It is one of my most favorite memories of all time.

I picked up the index card and wrote my seller number and size. But when it came to writing the price, my hand literally began to shake.

It was like putting a price on my favorite color in the rainbow. It’s that nameless, extraordinary color that comes to my head when I am so happy that I actually cry.

I couldn’t give away my favorite color in the rainbow…not for any price.

I set down my pen and instead held the dress next to my face.

I closed my eyes suddenly, unexpectedly, I was reminded.

I was reminded of her chubby, dimpled hands that delighted in grasping the magical  floating circles that captivated her big brown eyes.

I was reminded how she fit perfectly on my hip that day and how everyone stopped and adored the little angel fairy.

I was reminded of her miniature ponytail that stuck up from the top of her auburn hair, which is now blonde.

I was reminded that she will never be this small again.

I was reminded that time is fleeting, yet some things don’t change.

I am reminded that her face is still the closest thing to perfection that I know.

I am reminded that although her hands have grown, they still fit perfectly into mine.

I am reminded she still finds joy in bubbles, flowers, water, animals and all things created by God.

I am reminded that each day holds the opportunity to create a memory.

I am reminded that each day is an irreplaceable gift.

I look at this tiny blue dress and the reminder that it serves is painful; it is real; it brings me to my knees. I look at this blue dress and I know, I know.

Time is fleeting.

But I still have today. Thank God, I still have today.

And that, my friends, is a priceless gift.

Grasp it. Grasp it while you can.

Have you ever experienced an unexpected reminder? Did you allow it to sink in or did you push it away? Be open to the reminders in your life today…the reminders that reveal what is important, what really matters. Be reminded that time is fleeting, but you still have today. Then make use of today’s gift. Please share this message if you think someone else could use a reminder to grasp the gift that is today.

Embrace The Reminder

A few weeks ago, the flu hit our home hard.  Instead of simply wreaking havoc for a few days and then moving on, this mega-virus hovered. It would tease us by appearing to be find its way to the door, then only to turn around, prop up its feet and announce, “I’ve decided to stay awhile!”

After ten days of being “home bound” with one or both of my ill daughters and experiencing excessive sleep deprivation, I was exhausted. I was grouchy and irritable. I longed for just two peaceful minutes alone. I dreamed of the days when something other than a sleeve of Saltine crackers sounded good for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Let’s just say, to even think about being Hands Free at that time was just about enough to put me over the edge.

But through this journey, I have learned the times I most resist going Hands Free are the times I most need to go Hands Free.

And sometimes I need to be reminded of that.

Part of this Hands Free journey is being “open” to the reminders and then to embrace the reminders with open arms (even when all you really feel like doing is crossing your arms stubbornly against your chest).

I felt like crossing my arms against my chest, but instead I embraced the reminder.

This is my story…

On day ten of the miserable homebound period, a dear neighbor kindly dropped off my oldest daughter’s missed schoolwork. Although I was in the worst mood, and the mere sight of that blasted red take-home folder brought expletives to my head, I managed to smile and thank her.

Before she turned to leave, I desperately needed to let someone know how I was truly feeling.

I peered out the door, but I was very careful not to get my germy breath and unkempt self too close to my neighbor’s personal space. Through clenched teeth I confided, “I have not been out of the house in ten days. I am about to lose it.”

I didn’t expect her to have an answer. But she did.

My sweet Southern friend said, “Why don’t y’all go feed the ducks?”

Go feed the ducks? That was not what I had in mind.

I was thinking more along the lines of going into seclusion for a few days.

Then she even offered to give me the bread to feed the ducks.

Either she is just truly kind and generous (which she is), or I really did look like I was about to lose it.

Why don’t y’all go feed the ducks? And I even have bread you can use. It’s so fun. The girls will love it.

She made it hard to say no, but it sounded like A LOT of effort. And all I really wanted to do was go in my bedroom and put a pillow over my head…or perhaps be productive and begin reducing the size of the enormous mound of dirty laundry that had accumulated in the last ten days.

I wanted to keep those arms tightly crossed against my chest. I did not feel like being Hands Free right now.

But instead, my inner Hands Free voice (which tends to interject some pretty unconventional thoughts at some of the most inconvenient times) said this: “Embrace the reminder.”

So I did.

“Girls!” I called. “Do you want to go feed the ducks?”

They looked at me strangely. Was it because they didn’t know we had ducks in our vicinity? Or was it because Mom would surely not leave the house looking like, well, like she had been home sick in the company of sick children for ten days.

“Miss Susie said it is really fun,” I added. I couldn’t believe now I was the one doing the convincing.

They looked at each other excitedly and then back to me. Smiling they said, “YES!”

And then the “Hands Free Rachel” that often ticks off “Control-freak Type A Rachel” did something quite unusual.  I told them to simply, “Go get dressed in anything you want,” the way their laid-back Daddy does.

They intelligently opened the front door to briefly assess today’s weather.

Discovering it was around 55 degrees and overcast, one put on shorts, a tank top, and flip flops. The other one wore a sweatshirt, a jean skirt and knee high boots. Go figure.

Both had perfected the “messy” up-do, but not in a good way.

Me? Let’s just say I fit in well with their hodgepodge of mismatched style and seasonal variety. Then I used my trusty standby…the good old hat, and we were out the door.

As we rode to the pond, the anticipatory smiles on the two faces of my pale children began to ease my grumpiness.

But it wasn’t until we arrived at the pond and began tossing the crumbs that my “funk” was completely lifted.

Maybe it was the smell of the fresh spring air in my tight and oppressed lungs…

Maybe it was the way my four-year-old referred to the two large geese as “Mama Duck” and “Daddy Duck” and the regular sized ducks as “Baby Ducks”…

Or perhaps it was the hypnotic ripples in the clear water as the ducks glided forth…

Maybe it was how the bird song snippets coming from the trees silenced my negative thoughts and replaced them with praises of gratitude…

Or perhaps it was the fact that we were throwing whole-wheat waffles (or as my four-year-old refers to them, “The yucky brown kind”) and graham crackers, yet the ducks seem to really enjoy this unusual fare.

Maybe it was all those things.

But in a matter of minutes, I felt renewed. The frustrations and exhaustion of the past ten days were lifted. The light that had been missing from my darkened spirit was found again.

And all it took was a reminder.

I was reminded that Mother Nature holds healing powers.

I was reminded that fresh air removes the heaviness in one’s heart.

I was reminded that joy on children’s faces is a glorious sight for tired eyes.

I was reminded that tranquility found by the water’s edge creates a blanket of calm around tense shoulders.

I was reminded that refuge from the storm can come in the form of feathers and crumbs.

I was reminded beauty is multiplied in the glow of natural light…even hair that has not been brushed for days.

I was so powerfully reminded of this essential truth: It is in the times that I least want to go Hands Free that I most need to go Hands Free.

And from now on, instead of crossing my arms, I will try to remember to open them wide.

Where do you go to lift your spirits when you are down? What places do you visit serve as reminders of what’s important? What people in your life replenish your depleted energy supply? Go to those places. Be with those people. Uncross your arms; open them wide. Grasp the reminder and renew your soul. Do it today.

I Had It All

Last weekend I was inspired by my readers to “raise the bar” on my growing desire to live Hands Free.

So I did something that was challenging for me. I turned off my hand held communication device and my computer on both Saturday and Sunday, as described in my post, “A Major Turn Off.”

Thought of such action may have caused heart palpitations and sweaty palms for some (including myself).

But to others, the thought of such a measure was no big deal because they spend every weekend that way. (Insert “pat on the back” here.)

But regardless of how ludicrous OR how simple my personal challenge appeared to you, you did not judge. I thank you for that.

We have discussed this week that “baby steps” into a Hands Free life are often required. And whether my baby steps are the same, different, more challenging, or less challenging than your baby steps, there is no room for judgment in this journey…only encouragement.

Thank you for the encouragement.

So how did it go? Several of you have asked. Thank you for asking.

There are only four words to describe my weekend with no cell phone and no computer…

I had it all.

Because I let go of distraction for two whole days, “all” life has to offer was in my grasp. And with it, I realized two things:

- I never realized how much “daily distraction” makes its way into my home, into my thoughts, into my happiness, and into my life through my cell phone and my computer.

(It might just be me, but that realization sends shivers up my spine. Would I purposely open a vent that allowed carbon monoxide to invade my home? Of course not. Then why would I keep the pathway of distraction “open” so that it can poison my “family time” by preventing personal connection and purposeful interaction?)

- I also fully realized how daily distraction has a sneaky way of stealing time, that precious rare commodity that once we lose, we never regain. Every time I get on to check email, Facebook, or search the Internet, suddenly a large chunk of time is gone. Is that really how I want to spend my precious family time?

And only by turning my computer and phone off completely for two whole days did I have these powerful revelations.

For two days, I could breath easier. The laughter came easier. The ability to relax came easier, and it remained longer.

Why? Because I had time.

Time was in my hands…instead of the other way around.

And in that precious time, I had it all…

I had time to laugh.

I had time to dance.

I had time to make sweet creations with little hands.

I had time to add the sprinkles. (Life is just better with sprinkles, don’t you think?)

I had time to sit down and enjoy every single bite of Daddy’s homemade pancakes and waffles.

I had the time to help my daughters make someone else smile.

I had the time to help my daughters make someone else feel better.

I had the time to dig through a box full of memorabilia and old cards from my childhood.

This is a card my grandma, who has since passed, wrote to me when I was five.

I had time to stand in amazement.

My mom saved my first haircut. I was amazed to see my hair was the same color as my youngest daughter's hair.

I had time to watch my daughter stand in amazement.

My seven-year-old was amazed at the similarities between her handwriting and my seven-year-old handwriting

I had time to climb a hill and feel a sense of smallness, gratitude, and wonder.

I had time to see strength and perseverance in a little girl who used to say, “I can’t do it.”

I had time to do something I loved to do twenty years ago.

I had time to see what it does to children to see their mom doing something they seldom see her do.

My four-year-old was entranced by her mama's violin playing.

I had time to read my Bible and hear the God-given messages that are felt in moments of stillness.

The simple act of turning off my phone and my computer for the weekend allowed me to be IN the moment. I was not thinking about past mistakes or planning ahead to next week. I was not thinking about all the things I could be getting accomplished. I was simply being in the moment…the glorious God-given moments found in the ordinary, mundane delights of a rainy Saturday morning and a clear blue Sunday afternoon.

Instead of being “half-way” there by dividing my attention into worthless sections, I was focused solely on what mattered in each beautiful moment. Not once did I think about the moments behind me or in front of me; not once did I think about the moments going on in someone else’s life, or what I thought should be going on in mine.

Instead, I had it all.

Being in the moment allowed me to fully experience each smile, every laugh, each word, every emotion and every touch.

And if something tragic happened to me come Monday morning, I can’t think of a better way to have spent the last two days of my life.

Because for those two days…I had it all.

And this weekend? Well, there’s no question. I am going to have it all again.

And you you can, too.

Last weekend a reader in Maryland, a reader in Colorado, and one in Michigan let me know that they were joining me in my challenge to “unplug.” It sure felt great to have not only the support, but also the accountability. I wonder if, like me, they realized it was not only easier than expected to go without a phone or a computer, but also more rewarding than expected. What do you think? Could this be your weekend to “Have It All?” Need a partner? Click the “share” button below and send it to someone you love. There is no better gift than the gift of time.