A Sign of Love

I haven’t taken many vacations without my children, but whenever I do, the same unsettling feeling overcomes me before I leave.

The last time I got the feeling, it prompted me to write detailed letters to each of my children, which I described in one of my most popular posts, “More Than I Love You.”

This time, the unsettling feeling stuck me just as I was zipping up my suitcase at 5:30 a.m. on the day of departure.

There was not enough time for me to sit down and type them a lengthy note explaining what it was about each of them that amazes and inspires me.

As my husband carried my bag out to the car, I ran to the junk drawer in our kitchen, (you know, the one where you reach in and there’s 1,000 pens but only one that works?), and grabbed two brightly colored Post-It notes.

In big letters I wrote the words that I had whispered over and over to the girls as I held them in the sacred comfort of my arms the night before.

I love you.

It’s the three words you always want to leave someone with, especially if somehow your plans to come home are tragically diverted.

With the completed notes stuck to my fingers, I quickly surveyed the room searching for the spot that two people of short stature, but with observant eyes, would never miss.

Ah ha. The fish tank. Their morning ritual is to sit on the ottoman in front of the fish tank and make sure everyone lived through the night.

Satisfied my daughters would not miss the hot pink and green notes covering the home of Snowy, Orange-O, Stripey, and Mr. Froggy, I closed the door behind me.

When my husband and I returned five days later, I immediately noticed the Post-It notes were still there, transferred only a short distance from the aquarium glass to the wall directly beside it.

The next day, I was doing what most do upon returning from vacation … unpack, tackle heaps of laundry, and get things back “in order.”

Since I strive to live in realness, I will admit that Drill Sergeant Rachel was on the verge of overtaking Hands Free Rachel. I pretty much looked like I was “on a mission” as I sped from room to room, picking up dirty clothes and other random items that were misplaced from their usual location.

In fact, I was moving so quickly, focusing only on “getting things done,” that I almost missed it.

I quickly grabbed the lime-green Post-Its off the light switches on the way down the stairs.

When I got to the bottom of the stairs, there was another one affixed to the light switch, which I hastily grabbed on my way to the kitchen.

As I headed straight for the trashcan, I saw another note displayed on the kitchen light switch.

I think it’s safe to assume my Hands Free voice was longer a gentle whisper. In fact when I finally stopped, it was screaming.

“Hold on a minute! Enough with the tunnel vision! You are about miss something big here.”

Someone thought long and hard about where to place these notes so I would be sure and see them. Thank God my Hands Free inner voice allowed me to grasp what really mattered before they were carelessly discarded with the trash.

I fully realized I needed to sit down and look carefully at each note. I immediately noticed there was a central theme to all of them: A little girl and a mom. And there was love … so much love.

Someone wanted me to know that she missed me while I was gone.

Someone wanted me to know that her days just aren’t the same when I am not here.

Someone wanted me to know she loves me.

And she placed them on every light switch in the house so I couldn’t miss possibly miss them. I physically shuddered thinking I had almost thrown them away.

I am fully aware how much my daughter loves me, but it sure feels good to be shown in a beautiful, tangible, lay it next to your bedside, place it in a box and read it twenty-five years from now kind of way.

Even a Post-It note with stick figures can speak volumes when it comes to one’s heart.

As I stared at the collection of loving messages, I was suddenly overcome with a childhood memory. There on my checkered-green bedspread placed next to my well-loved Pooh bear was a little white note.

I can’t recall if it said, “I love you,” or “Your room looks great, Rachel!” but there was a smiley face; there was always a smiley face.

My mom worked long hours when my sister and I were in middle and high school. We had many responsibilities about the house. But my mom always took time to reinforce our efforts with these randomly placed little notes. Even though my mom left very early or sometimes didn’t get home until very late, she somehow managed to leave us these tangible reminders of her love and appreciation.

I can’t believe I had forgotten about the notes. But had I? Perhaps it was the memory of my mother’s notes buried deep in my subconscious that prompted me to leave surprise messages for my daughters. And to my amazement and delight, my five-year-old daughter brought the powerful gesture full circle by leaving some for me.

As parents, our actions (both positive and negative) do not go unnoticed by our children and can make an incredible, lasting impact.

A few days after I had discovered the notes, I read a moving account of a teenage girl who sent text messages to her mother while she hid from the deadly shooter in Oslo, Norway.

At the beginning of the harrowing ordeal, the teenager’s mother asked her daughter to send “a sign of life,” every five minutes.

Every five minutes, for over 90 minutes, the texts came through; some of the messages were frantic and fearful, other times, they were an answer to prayer with three mere words of: “I’m still alive.”

At one point, the daughter even wrote what was on her heart: “I love you even though I yell at you sometimes. ”

These exchanges lasted until the mother saw on the news that the shooter had been captured and was able to text her daughter the glorious words, “They got him!”

(I encourage you to read the entire harrowing account here.)

This compelling story reminded me so powerfully of something I too often forget. Why do I wait until I am going to be separated from my children to leave them letters or love notes? Why wait to tell/show my loved ones how much they mean to me?

Why wait for the moments when I might be the one hoping and praying for a sign of life? Why not make it an every day occurrence to give a sign of love?

It’s no more than a card on a bed, a Post-It note on the mirror, a message in a lunch box, a letter in a briefcase.

I find myself thinking about that brave mother who kept her wits about her as she agonized over the fate of her beloved daughter.

And I think about their reunion.

I can only imagine how many signs of love this mother will bestow on her daughter in the days to come … in the precious God-given days to come.

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Grab a piece of paper, a Post-It note, or a card right now. Write a short message to someone who is important to you. Place it in a spot where he or she can happily discover it.

A sign of love.

At age three, thirteen, thirty-three, or seventy-three, one never tires of seeing a tangible sign of just how much he or she is loved.

And then keep your eyes open … someday your note recipient might follow your example and leave you a sign in return.

*It’s back to school time for many children! This is the perfect opportunity to write a special note … a concrete sign you love them and are thinking about them even when you are apart.

**Please share this message and be the reason a mother or father, husband or wife, grandma or grandpa, friend or neighbor decides now is the time to make someone’s day with a sign of love.

I See Beautiful

I saw a sweaty mess in a beloved ball cap, but a stranger saw something more.

The other day I stopped at Walgreens for a few items. It was an extremely hot day and I had just finished exercising. I would have preferred to at least shower before the quick shopping trip, but sunscreen, band-aids, and an anniversary card could not wait until my once-a-week grocery store excursion.

I was comparing the (outrageous) price of spray sunscreen verses lotion sunscreen when a male voice came up and startled me out of my SPF price-comparing reverie.

“I just gotta say, ‘You are beautiful,’” he stated just as casually as he would tell me my shoe was untied or that I should really invest in some deodorant or that Banana Boat lasts way longer than Coppertone when it comes to sun protection.

But he didn’t say those things. He said, “You are beautiful.”

And as the young man (whose years appeared to be half of my almost forty) walked away he added, “Go Tarheels,” and smiled in reference to my baseball cap.

I’m pretty sure my mouth was hanging open. I wouldn’t have been able to speak if Pat Sajack stood before me and asked me to choose a letter.

There is no way that guy was talking to me.

I actually looked over my shoulder to make sure there wasn’t a Scarlett Johansson look-alike coyly deciding which tanning oil to lather on her curves (in all the right places, I might add).

At this point I would have paid fifty bucks for whatever sunscreen I happen to be holding in my hand at that moment and did a dead sprint to the checkout counter.

Who needs band-aids and store-bought cards anyway? I decided we could use masking tape for the band-aids I was leaving without, and Hallmark cards are completely overrated anyway. I was certain my parents would love a homemade anniversary card this year.

Once I was in the safety of my car, I had a moment to reflect.

I actually tilted the rearview mirror down until I could see my reflection. I quickly tilted it back up. I surely did not see anything qualifying as “beautiful” there.

And in that moment of confusion, bewilderment, and shock, the words of a dear friend and loyal blog reader came back to me.

She had recently posted an array of vacation pictures on Facebook. A particular photo of her in the album captivated me. It was a close-up of her face. She wore not a stitch of make-up, and she was laughing.

In the comment section below the picture I had written one word: Beautiful.

In fact, I had never seen this gorgeous woman ever look so beautiful.

Later, she sent me a personal message. She has graciously given me permission to share those words with you now:

Yesterday on Facebook, you made a comment about a picture that I would have never made of myself. In fact, it took me by surprise. You typed “Beautiful” about the picture of me laughing. I almost replied, “I don’t think so. I hate the way my nose crinkles up and how my chin looks in this picture.” But then I realized your comment is your perception of the picture, not mine, and that I should consider looking at it again. I then smiled and said a peaceful and sincere “thank you” to you in my head.

My friend went on to describe her personal battle (and recent small successes) against her cruel inner voice and poor self-image issues.

I tilted the rearview mirror down one more time. Maybe I should reconsider it, too.

I liked how my cheeks were flushed a peachy rose color from the intensity of my just-completed five-mile run.

And how my hair curled into soft waves from the sweltering heat and humidity.

I even saw the faintest sparkle in my eyes resulting from the exercise endorphins still radiating through my body.

Beautiful?

It was a stretch. But OK, maybe so.

At this point you may be expecting a grand revelation about overcoming the debilitating affects of a negative self-image. I am sorry to disappoint, but you will not find one here.

(At least not yet.)

I am still a work-in-progress battling my “Somedays,” still trying to hear my “Victory Song” of total acceptance playing at a steady, consistent hum.

But I will say this …

If you think someone is beautiful … in their sweaty mess, in their laughing fit, in their actions toward others, or in their own radiant light, tell her so.

If you think someone is beautiful, tell him today; tell him right now.

They probably will not expect it; they might even doubt it. But for one split second they might consider it.

And maybe, just maybe, they will see something beautiful, too.

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We so often overlook our best qualities. We commonly experience tunnel vision straight to the “problem areas,” instead of seeing our not-so-obvious beautiful features, both inside and out.

I challenge you to let go of distraction and perfection and grasp what matters by doing these two things:

1) Consider your own beauty. Take a look. Zero in on something you like about yourself and celebrate that appealing physical (or non-physical) characteristic.

2) Consider someone else’s beauty. Tell him or her these simple words: “You are beautiful.”

I welcome you to use this post as a catalyst for those words. Simply use the “share” button below. Do it today. Do it right now. We so often have the words someone else needs to hear at the exact moment he or she needs to hear it.

One Happy Island

I recently wrote a post about the fourteenth wedding anniversary excursion I went on with my husband. Many readers saw the sunset photos and inquired where one can find such surreal beauty.

The answer is Aruba.

And believe it or not, the sunsets are only a fraction of its appeal.

This island is very much in its natural state, void of expensive landscaping and “showy” sights.  This island and its people are authentic, satisfied with simply showcasing their natural splendor without worry of living up to typical vacation destination standards or expectations.

I slowly realized the island had a motto when I began seeing the same three words everywhere. In fact, the slogan was affixed to every license plate on the island.

Aruba: One Happy Island.

At first, I was merely delighted and amused by the fitting phrase of this welcoming piece of paradise. But the more I thought about it, I realized it was a motto worth adopting.

What if I could be consistently happy in my own skin regardless of what the media claims as fit or beautiful?

What if I could be happy with my life pursuits regardless of what society deems as a worthy life goal or defines as success?

What if I could be happy with who I am without the affirmation or justification from others?

What if I could be a happy island?

As a sensitive, “people pleaser” all my life, it is sometimes difficult to be a happy island. Too often, I allow outside factors to determine my own happiness.

But on this Hands Free journey, I am working on grasping what matters.  And something that matters is being happy with ME and not allowing outside forces to threaten or undermine that happiness.

I am fairly certain I have made progress in the area of self-validation during my past year of living Hands Free, but now I have a slogan to inspire me in those moments of insecurity and doubt.

One Happy Island.

Thank you, Aruba.

And as if fate knew about my determination to live up to my newfound motto, I was tested.

In fact, the test was waiting for me when I opened my computer upon arriving home from my trip.

Oh really, Rachel? One Happy Island? Let’s just see about that.

I debuted this blog eight months ago and never once had I received a mean comment. That is, until a few days ago. Granted, I have received a few comments that respectfully challenged my Hands Free concept or politely questioned a view I expressed in one of my posts, but those types of comments are quite different from a personal attack on me as a person and a mother.

The comment in question pertained to my blog entry, “Must You Go So Soon?” In that post, I describe the life lessons my family has gleaned in our efforts to stabilize the water in our new fish tank…a necessity to keeping the fish alive.

Without any editing, here is what “Tom” wrote:

I think Your a little nuts, sorry to break the news to you but fish don’t have feelings. This isn’t finding Nemo. I really think your parenting skills suck. And your kids are going to grow up to be sheltered sissies. That have no clue how this big bad world really is.”

A year ago, I may have read this and gotten a bit offended. I may have had to seek affirmation from a few talented blog writers like Lori or Wendy who have posted glowing reviews of my writing and my parenting skills.

A year ago, I surely would have had to show this harsh response to my husband or best friend so they could tell me Tom’s comment was about as accurate as his grammar usage.

And I surely could not have gone to sleep without drafting a curt and disdainful rebuke to this man who clearly missed the entire point of the post.

Lastly, Pre-Hands Free Rachel may have actually considered his words and wondered if there was any truth to them…not once, but many times….unable to simply let it go.

Now things are different. Thank God, things are different.

Do you want to know what I did when I read Tom’s comment?

I laughed.

In fact, I laughed out loud.

I laughed the way I do when my daughters and I watch silly YouTube videos like “Charlie Bit My Finger,” or “Baby Dancing To Beyonce.”

And before I slid Tom’s comment into the deep, dark blogosphere “trash,” I had one more good laugh.

Then three words came to my mind: One Happy Island.

I’m getting closer. Yes, I am.

Thanks, Tom.

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How often do we allow other people’s cruel words, negative comments or harsh criticisms threaten what we know is true about ourselves? Whether it is from a co-worker, neighbor, family member, friend, the media, or even our own inner voice, life can be littered with insults. But it’s up to us what we do with them.

Being joyful is a choice…letting other people sabotage it is, too.

So the next time someone tries to ruin your party, shrug it off; have a laugh.

Retreat to your island and be happy.

*I leave you with a photo of my ultimate One Happy Island role model wearing her new One Happy Island t-shirt. My four-year-old daughter loves life. Actually, she loves her life and nothing anyone can say or do will change her mind or her attitude about that.

The epitome of One Happy Island..