What Should Never Be Left Unspoken

“If nobody speaks of remarkable things, how can they be called remarkable?” –Jon McGregor

“If nobody speaks of remarkable things, how can they be called remarkable?” –Jon McGregor

The morning rush typical of most downtown coffee shops had died down. I didn’t have to strain to hear the words of the beautiful twenty-something writer with bright, clear eyes sitting across from me. Her fingers were perched above something that resembled an iPad. She was ready to take notes for a magazine article she was writing about my journey.

Would she get it? I wondered. Would she understand the relevance of the Hands Free message or would she think that I am out of touch with what is important in the modern world today?

The writer interrupted my insecure thoughts with a warm and welcoming offer. “Instead of asking questions, I like to ask people just to tell their stories. I find they don’t leave anything out that way.”

Tell me your story. I was suddenly hopeful. This sounded like the start of the best interview I’d ever had.

I was no more than five minutes in when I told the most important part of my story: the kiss my daughter placed on the palm of my hand. It happened when I took my first step to be less distracted and more present. I’d temporarily let go of all my distractions—the phone, computer, to-do list … the pressure, perfection, guilt—and simply held my child. Her response was a kiss on my hand that ultimately changed my life.

The young woman’s fingers stopped typing. Her eyes had that unmistakable shine of unspilled tears. She blinked in rapid succession as if trying to force the emotion from escaping. “Wow,” was all she said.

“It’s very emotional,” I agreed, feeling moved by her heartfelt reaction to my story.

I continued on, describing more experiences like the kiss that kept propelling me forward on my journey towards a less distracted, more meaningfully connected life.

“As you are talking, I keep thinking of my favorite quote,” the young lady remarked cupping her steaming coffee with one free hand. “If nobody speaks of remarkable things, how can they be called remarkable?” she recited. “It’s from a book by Jon McGregor. I loved the quote so much I painted the words on a canvas and hung it in my apartment.” Her face lit up as she divulged this little bit about herself—this bit that revealed what made her heart sing.

It was my turn to be captivated. I felt as if she had just given me a gift—a gift of understanding … of unity … of camaraderie. This beautiful young lady got exactly what I was saying—she recognized the importance of living with open hands and open eyes. Like my younger daughter, she was a Noticer of remarkable things. I vowed not to forget her beautiful offering. Little did I know just how much it would impact me in the hours ahead.

After leaving the coffee shop, I headed to my daughters’ school. I was invited to speak to a second grade Girl Scout troop about achieving their dreams. I’d jotted some notes, a few things I wanted to be sure and tell the children about setting goals and using positive affirmations.

But as the girls sat in front of me like little sponges with expectant eyes, I felt compelled to share specifics from my personal journey rather than vague generalizations. But would they get it? Or would the story of my highly distracted life sound like a foreign language to them? Would they stare at the clock wondering how many agonizing minutes until my talk was over?

Despite my reservations, I told my story. And when I got to the part about my daughter’s kiss on my hand, there were a few little gasps … a few smiles … a few shining eyes.

I looked around carefully to make sure everyone was still with me. Even my own daughters who sat at a table in the back of the room looked at me with hopeful faces wanting to hear more of a story they’d heard many times before.

And so I continued. I told the children how I wrote about the kiss on the hand and published it on a blog. I told them how my story inspired other people to look for their own Kiss On the Hand moments—those beautiful moments we so often miss in our busy, distracted lives. I told the girls about how I kept clicking “publish” every week for years until finally a book publisher took notice and thought my story was book worthy.

I held up my finished book, my 240 pages of little moments that made life worth living. And when I did, I saw fire in those children’s eyes. I saw dreams igniting right then and there.

“Tell me your dreams,” I said. “What do you hope to accomplish?”

One by one, their small hands raised triumphantly.

Veterinarian
Singer on The Voice
Pro basketball player
College softball player
Robot inventor
Olympic Ice Skater
Teacher
Published Author

“But what if someone says, ‘You can’t do that’? What if someone says, ‘You don’t have a chance’? What if someone says, ‘You’re no good’?” I challenged.

“Don’t listen to them!” one girl fired back.

“You know what you should listen to?” I asked. “Listen to your heart when you hold that basketball. Listen to your heart when you take that pencil in your hand and can’t stop writing. Think about what it feels like to sing at the top of your lungs. Think about what it feels like to do something you love to do. But don’t stop there. Share that incredible feeling with someone else. Because if we share our remarkable thing, someone else might notice his or her remarkable thing.”

I searched the girls’ faces one by one. They were still with me—listening, learning, digesting what I had to offer. And that’s when I leaned forward and lowered my voice to almost a whisper. “Maybe you don’t make it to The Voice. Maybe you don’t make the pros or land a book deal. That doesn’t mean you didn’t succeed. Maybe sharing your journey, your dream, or what excites your heart is the achievement. Maybe inspiring someone else to see his or her life differently is the success.”

After receiving big hugs and signing books for each precious girl, I walked out of the building with my daughters. As always, my older daughter was five steps ahead. I held back for my stop-and-smell-the-roses younger daughter.

As I fell in stride with her leisurely gait, she grabbed my hand. “I teached you, Mama? Tell me again what I teached you.”

Although my children were not part of the Girl Scout troop, it was apparent this little girl listened to my presentation and wanted to hear a certain part again. I was happy to oblige. “You taught me that life should not be lived in a hurry. You taught me that if I slowed down, I could see all the beautiful things. You always had this huge smile on your face and I didn’t. That’s when I realized I could learn a lot from you about living life.”

My child suddenly stopped walking and looked up, her little glasses teetering on the edge of her nose. “Remember when I kissed your hand, Mama. That’s when I changed your life.”

For a moment, I had no words. I was suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude for the gift I received from a twenty-something writer with hopeful eyes who let me tell my story over coffee.

If nobody speaks of remarkable things, how can they be called remarkable?

How can they spread like a kiss drifting in the wind?

How can they inspire a future generation?

How can they find their way back to the person who created one of the most remarkable moments of your life?

what should never be left unspoken Now, more than ever, we must speak of remarkable things. Now, when undivided attention is a rare and priceless commodity … now, when we too often choose glowing screens over shining sunlight … now, when digital notifications take precedence over soul-to-soul connection.

Now more than ever, we must speak of the remarkable things that make our heart sing … that fill our eyes with tears … that bring beauty, comfort, and joy to our ordinary, mundane lives.

You may think the person on the other end won’t get it.

But maybe she will.

So speak. Speak of what makes your heart sing. Speak of what alters the way you see your life.

Because you never know who might be listening …

And using your dream to envision her own.

remarkable 2

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Friends of the Hands Free Revolution, tell me your remarkable things … tell me what makes your heart sing … tell me your dreams. Let’s share. Let’s inspire. Let’s dream big. I love to hear your stories.

A few remarkable things to share with you … 

1) Two brilliant Stanford University students reached out to me to tell me about a life-saving app they are developing for drivers called Strive. They hope America will use it to Strive to Drive SafeAndrew, one of the app designers,  described it like this: 

“Strive is a free application that has two very simple functions. The first is an automatic ‘Do Not Disturb the Driver mode’ that is triggered when the smartphone user is moving – calls, texts, emails and notifications are silenced until she or he has safely arrived. The second Strive function makes the user’s contact book smarter. Instead of showing just a contact name, each Striver will show a car icon in front of their name if they are driving, forever removing the need to ask that benign but potentially deadly question, ‘Are you on your way?’ It is our hope is that parents use the app, share it with their kids, and help build healthy habits and safe communities.” 

 Andrew and Linus are looking for a testing group of two dozen people who use either iPhone or Android to test it out. If you are interested, please fill out the form here  or email andrew@drivestrive.com with any questions. 

2) Robin O’Bryant wrote a book because she had a message to share, one that she thought would validate others and bring humor to their lives. For two years she tried to land a traditional book deal. When that didn’t happen, she redefined what success looked like for her and self-published, “Ketchup is a Vegetable” in 2011. In 2013, her book hit the New York Times Bestseller List! It was recently re-released through St. Martin’s Press and is now found on shelves everywhere! Check it out and be inspired to go after your dream! 

3) Best news for last … friends, last week this community opened their arms wide and because of your generous donations several more orphans living in the Ugandan slums are able to come live in one of the amazing Rescue Homes. I wept when I listened to the lullabies you wrote for the babies that the housemothers are now singing to them. I am so grateful for your generous hearts!

Now tell me your remarkable things …

Thank you, Not-So-Pleasant Moment in Life

thank you hands free mama

I was riding in a cab in Austin, Texas when she said her tummy hurt.

I was standing in a hotel lobby in San Francisco when she complained of a sprained ankle.

I was sitting on the runway in Detroit when she described the pain in her left ear.

And while on the last leg of my book tour in Toronto, she called to say, “My throat hurts. I think I have strep,” in the most pathetic voice I’d ever heard.

Normally, such dismal medical updates from my seven-year-old would have sounded like fingernails on a chalkboard, but while on the road, I came to relish those calls.

That little whiny voice on the other end of the line brought comfort to this lonely mama’s soul. That little voice was HOME—safety, security, and familiarity. It surprised me that I was relishing these phone calls because they surely didn’t represent the best parts of home. But as I offered assurances to my child hundreds of miles away, I realized something significant about the whiny, messy, unpredictable moments. They are what make home a home and a life a life. They are what make up my life … my one precious life.

Before my book tour began, I professed my fear of television interviews, large metropolitan areas, and speaking in front of big groups of people. Little did I know the angst I would experience while being away from home. Although I managed to get comfortable in front of the camera and learned to navigate my way through large airports and cities, I never got accustomed to being away from home. But as most of you know, there is something quite profound that happens when you miss something so badly it hurts.

You gain appreciation.

You gain perspective.

You grasp what really matters.

Just when I thought my Hands Free journey could not open my eyes any wider to what really mattered in life, I began seeing what I could not see before: Glimmers of Goodness in the mundane, the mess, and the mayhem … Glimmers of Goodness in the exaggeratedly dramatic sprained ankles and the never-ending doses of Amoxicillin.

And a tragedy didn’t have to strike in order for me to see all the goodness.

And for that, I am eternally grateful.

So now I must share it. This newfound perspective I gained while on the road may help someone else discover life’s daily blessings among the distractions and challenges of life. I call this approach “Glimmers of Goodness.” Because having a full and complete day of goodness is hard, maybe even impossible, with life’s daily stresses of children, bills, schedules, deadlines, responsibilities, and pressures. But finding Glimmers of Goodness within a day is possible—even when you are irritated, annoyed, or frustrated. In fact, it is in times of overwhelm that I can find these bright spots most easily. It may sound odd, but I’ve been taking each not-so-pleasant experience or feeling and thanking it. And from that place of gratitude, I find a Glimmer of Goodness. Take a look …

Glimmers of Goodness

Thank you, hurried morning. It is in the hunt for shoes, library books, and backpacks that I appreciate the slow Saturday. I shall pay attention and appreciate the Slow Saturday.

Thank you, perpetually dirty house. It is in finding rumpled sheets, toothpaste blobs, and abandoned socks that I appreciate the evidence of life being lived.  I shall pay attention and appreciate Life Being Lived.

Thank you, aging face. It is in finding another gray hair and another laugh line that I appreciate the gift of another day. I shall pay attention and appreciate the Gift Another Day.

Thank you, stop-and-smell-the-roses child. It is when I take life at your pace that I notice the unnoticable. I shall pay attention and appreciate Noticing the Unnoticable.

Thank you, free-spirited child. It is in experiencing everything a little faster, a little louder, and a little riskier that I appreciate the courage it takes to be bold. I shall pay attention and appreciate Being Bold.

Thank you, sensitive soul. It is in experiencing everything a little deeper and a little more quietly that I see the beauty of a tender heart. I shall pay attention and appreciate the Tender Heart.

Thank you, pang of guilt. It is in wishing that I did things differently that I appreciate the opportunity of Second Chances. I shall pay attention and appreciate Second Chances.

Thank you, disappointment. It is in experiencing let down that I appreciate the fact that I had the courage to try. I shall pay attention and appreciate the Courage to Try.

Thank you, daily challenge. It is in looking straight into the face of sorrow, struggle, fear, frustration, heartache, and worry that I appreciate the fact I keep showing up. I shall pay attention and appreciate the fact that I Keep Showing Up.

And I will keep showing up.

Because there are Glimmers of Goodness in each day if I pay attention. Even the bad moments have some good in them when I stand back and view them from a distance.

Because with a little perspective,

And a little appreciation,

I can see that even the not-so-pleasant moments make a home a home … and a life a life.

My life.

My one precious life.

And a tragedy didn’t have to strike for me to see it.

Thank you, whiny voice on the other end of the line. It is in hearing every ache and pain in your precious body that I appreciate We Are Alive. I shall pay attention and appreciate the fact that We Are Alive.

And because of that incredibly momentous fact, I shall use today to grasp as many Glimmers of Goodness as I can find.

thank you handsfree mama 3

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Friends, tell me how you find Glimmers of Goodness in your day. Tell me what life experiences provided you with life-changing perspective. Your stories are like gold to me and to those who read the comment section of this incredible community. When we see each other’s scars, we love each other more. That’s what I believe. There is so much to be gained by sharing our hearts. Thank you for being here.

If you’ve ever wanted to ask me question about living Hands Free or about writing a book, here is your chance! On Wednesday, March 19th at 1pm ET, I am participating in a Live Author Chat sponsored by FaithGateway. You can submit your questions via Twitter and I will answer them LIVE on the Google Hangout in real-time. (Only the author and host are on camera. You just watch and listen – you don’t need a webcam for these chats.) Click here to register and learn more. 

Friends, the book tour for HANDS FREE MAMA enabled me to meet so many incredible people, answer thought-provoking questions, and experience many Hands Free revelations. With the incredible national and international response to my new book, I find I am in need of rest, reflection, and rejuvenation. So in honor of my children’s spring break beginning next week, I will be taking a two-week break from blogging to spend time with my family and document the incredible experiences I had while on my book tour. You can look forward to a new blog post the week of April 7th. Thank you for supporting my commitment to authentically LIVE the Hands Free life that I write about!

 *For beautiful reminders to live Hands Free, be sure and check out the Hands Free Shop to see the gorgeous bracelets & hand-lettered prints that would make unique & meaningful gifts for Easter and Mother’s Day this spring. To go to the shop, click here. I am truly grateful to all who are giving my book as birthday gifts and gifts to new parents. Thank you for spreading the Hands Free message of hope far and wide! 

 

When You Get it Right … and When You Don’t

what's right 2 handsfree mama

“I must have done something right,” the father of a nineteen-year-old young lady was telling me after having fixed my troublesome garage door.

Although his daughter had drifted a bit during her early teen years, she was now coming over to her parents’ house on the weekends and was genuinely enjoying spending time with her parents again.

The repairman’s eyes lit up when he talked about the renewed relationship with his daughter. He seemed relieved about how things had turned out.

“I must have done something right,” he had said a few minutes earlier.

His oldest daughter is nineteen. My oldest daughter is ten. I don’t want to wait nine years to know whether or not I’ve done something right. Because now is when I need to hear it.

Now—when I am in smack dab in the middle of raising her.

Now—when I feel the pressure to examine every choice I make, wondering how these choices will affect her now and in the future.

Now—when I want to trust my gut and live by heart rather than simply go along with mainstream opinion or “expert” advice.

Now—when I need little glimmers of hope to cling to each day.

So I decided not to wait.

Each day for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been looking for a little rightness—a little what-is-right-in-my-world.

Notice I say “a little.” Because what I am talking about is practically unnoticeable. It’s hardly note-worthy. And it’s definitely not anything worthy of public sharing—at least not according to societal standards. But that’s why it’s working for me. That’s why it’s encouraging to me. Because looking for what is right in my world – in my day – in my hour – is far more encouraging than looking for what is “right” in my world according to social media, societal standards, or popular opinion.

I invite you to take a look. Maybe this list will inspire you to see what is right in your world today.

[Read more...]

When Someone We Love Loses His Way

 

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*name has been changed to protect privacy

After teaching children with severe learning and behavior issues for eight years, I was in need of a change. A first grade position opened up in the district, so I applied and thankfully was offered the position. I instantly adored my team of first grade teachers. In exchange for grade level supplies and curriculum guidance, I offered effective behavioral strategies for the most challenging students in our grade level. And on extremely trying days, I would even accept visitors from other first grade classrooms.

Gregory* was one of my frequent visitors. My students and I always knew when Gregory would be coming. We could hear his problem escalating, and then there he would be standing at our door with the work he was refusing to do in hand.

[Read more...]

Voicing the Gift

*all names in this piece have been changed

Voicing The Gift

My first teaching position was a bit unusual. Because a full time teacher was not needed at either school in the district, I worked half-day at the high school and half-day at the elementary school. That was the nice thing about my special education degree; it encompassed grades kindergarten through twelfth. Oh wait … except I didn’t actually have my special education degree (yet). That is how scarce the supply of special education teachers was at the time. But with an elementary education degree in hand and a commitment to obtain my master’s degree in special education, I was able to accept the position.

So there I was, a teacher of big kids with learning and behavioral problems and a teacher of little kids with learning and behavioral problems. I wasn’t quite sure what to do at either end of the spectrum. But despite my lack of training, I had worked with kids long enough to know I was good at one thing: listening. I knew from experience that if an adult acted the slightest bit interested, kids (no matter what age) generally liked to talk.

[Read more...]

Six Words You Should Say Today

If you have ever experienced an emotional response simply by watching someone you love in action, I’ve got six words for you.

Very rarely does one sentence have immediate impact on me.

Very rarely does one sentence change the way I interact with my family.

But this one did. It was not from Henry Thoreau or some renowned child psychologist. It was a comment from kids themselves. And if I’ve learned anything on this “Hands Free” journey, it is that children are the true experts when it comes to “grasping what really matters.”

Here are the words that changed it all:
[Read more...]

Love Without Question

When it comes to matters of the heart, refrain from asking questions. Instead, just go with it.

*Name has been changed to protect privacy

Thanksgiving 2011 was one of the best I can remember.

It had all the makings of a fabulous holiday experience:

*hilarious moments (let me just say four words: “Awkward Family Photos Game”)

*inspiring moments (running in “The Drumstick Dash” alongside my husband and 15,000 other people with all proceeds going towards hot meals at the local mission)

*peaceful moments (having a the loveliest tea party for two with my precious 16-month-old nephew.)

*thankful moments (counting the number of freckles on my five-year-old daughter’s exquisite nose as she rested her sleepy head on my lap; BTW, there are 34)

[Read more...]

Do What You Can Do

I haven’t been able to get a recent tragedy out of my mind.

I thought perhaps it was because it happened in the state where I grew up.

I thought perhaps it was because I am an avid concert-goer myself, and a freak accident such as this could have very well happened to me or to one of my friends.

Then I realized it wasn’t the circumstance of the accident, nor the location that consumed my thoughts and weighed heavily on my heart. It was what happened in the minutes directly after tragedy struck.

On August 13th, as fans awaited a concert at the Indiana State Fair, strong winds from an approaching storm caused the stage rigging for the outdoor concert to collapse, abruptly ending five precious lives and injuring forty-five more.

As many terrified spectators understandably ran away from the danger and chaos, approximately 100 people ran toward it.

With bare hands, men and women lifted steel beams and heavy scaffolding from the injured and frightened survivors.

Other heroic bystanders sat and comforted those who were bleeding or had injured loved ones until medical assistance arrived.

When I think about the courageous souls who ran to assist, I find myself in awe of their split-second decision to go forward, rather than to turn away.

If only one or two people had decided go forth and help, the beams could have never been lifted. But because a group of individuals each did what they could do, their collective actions created one dramatic, life-saving impact.

A week after the State Fair tragedy, one of my blog readers sent me a link to a website. She thanked me for continually inspiring her and wanted to share a website that she thought would inspire me, in return.

My first thought upon viewing this website was this: The steel beams from that tragic night are still being lifted.

A beautiful mother and wife named Andrea was among the many spectators who were critically injured at the state fair that night.

Andrea’s skull was crushed by the collapse of the enormous metal structure. She suffered a traumatic brain injury that nearly took her life.

You can read about Andrea’s injuries and progress in a touching post written by her brother here.

While Andrea remains hospitalized, local businesses, community members, even small children and pets are doing what they can to support Andrea and her family financially, emotionally, and spiritually.

Here are a few examples …

A local day spa is offering $15 pink hair extensions …

A local bakery is selling pink “A” cookies …

The local roller skating rink recently hosted a benefit skate …

And there are bake sales, t-shirts, bracelets, window decals … with proceeds all benefitting “For The Love of Andrea.”

When you see each of these respective acts as one meaningful collection, the impact is indescribable. Go to www.fortheloveofandrea.com to witness this beautiful inspiration for yourself.

The day after I viewed Andrea’s website, I was confronted with the choice to either run toward or turn away from a family who was enduring great heartache and sadness.

Through the Caringbridge website, I learned that just ten houses down from me was a loving daughter trying to make the last few days of her mother’s life as peaceful and as painless as possible.

I stood at my computer that morning and literally ached as I read her words, thinking selfishly of my own mother and how excruciating such circumstances would be.

My hands hovered over my keyboard in the “Sign My Guestbook” section of the website, yet I was unable to move my fingers.

For a person whose passion and purpose is to create beautiful sentiments from the written word, I was at a loss.

What could I possibly say to this hurting family?

It would have been easy to run away, simply close my laptop and become distracted by a million insignificant things, but I yearned to run forward.

I thought of the small town bakery with their hot pink cupcakes; I thought of the high school boys who had painted their nails pink and the local St. Bernard dogs that proudly donned hot pink bows … all for the love of Andrea.

Then I thought of many individual hands grasping a heavy metal beam and lifting simultaneously at the count of three to free the trapped lives underneath.

I looked at my hands. What can I do?

I am a baker. I have been a baker since the day my four-year-old self could stop eating the butter long enough to toss it into the mixing bowl with a little flour and sugar. Baking is what I do well.

And when I looked on the counter, I saw four very ripe brown bananas ready to become succulent bread.

I summoned my five-year-old daughter (otherwise known as my ever-willing baking assistant and taste tester). I explained what was going on ten houses down. I had taught her about protecting herself against skin cancer, but today the brutal reality of melanoma was crystal clear.

I looked into her worried eyes and explained that it was our job to make the best tasting bread we had ever made.

I held her hands in mine and said, “This is what our hands are meant to do for this family in pain.”

My daughter convinced me that since it was going to be our best bread ever, we needed to make a mini loaf to sample (smart girl).  So before we prepared the larger loaves for delivery to our neighbor, we tasted the dense, warm bread and both agreed it was the best we had ever made. It was for someone very special, after all.

We wrapped the fragrant confections loosely in a brightly colored cloth because they still radiated heat from the oven.

As we carried our gift up the walk, my daughter stopped and suddenly seemed scared.

Understanding she was about to witness a heart-breaking moment in time, she asked, “What do I do, Mama?”

A friend of mine once said my daughter could solve the world energy crisis with her smile.

So I said, “You are going to do what YOU do so beautifully … SMILE. Smile that smile that makes your eyes all squinty and causes your mouth to reach the tips of your ears. Your smile is what our dear neighbor needs right now.”

I watched as my child practiced her best smile as we forged ahead on the walkway to my friend’s front door.

Run toward the pain, not away.

When my neighbor answered, I simply held out the bread and said, “I came to give you warm bread and a big hug.”

Lift the heavy beam.

There were few words, mostly a deposit of love and strength inside a hearty embrace.

My neighbor later posted an update on her mom’s Caringbridge site, noting the outpouring of support her family was receiving through food, cards, prayers, and by caring for her children’s afterschool needs.

I was again reminded how the individual actions of many, when compiled as one, can result in the substantial lifting of another person’s heavy burden.

That evening, my daughter and I sat on the front porch step watching a brewing storm off in the distance.

In the middle of the menacing sky a ray of sun peeked through, illuminating only the outline of the black cloud. It looked like a golden electric string suspended in mid-air.

For whatever reason, this sight triggered my daughter to think about our neighbor and her fragile mother who was slowly slipping away from her loved ones.

“It’s beautiful in heaven,” my daughter pointed to the ray of light that had suddenly cut a sizeable hole in the black cloud, revealing abundant sunshine and puffy white clouds on the other side.

Then without warning, my freckle-faced child bowed her head and said the loveliest prayer for a mother and daughter whose incredible bond would continue to exist, even beyond death.

Run toward the pain, not away. And once you are there, do what it is that you do best.

If we each lend a hand, then together as one, we just might begin to see a more beautiful world.

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Today is the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

Let this be a day where you push aside daily distraction and abandon the thought that you can’t possibly make a difference. Instead of running away from someone in need, run toward.

Think of a neighbor, co-worker, friend, or family member who is going through a difficult time. Now do what it is that YOU do to bring comfort to someone in need.

  • Make a phone call and just listen
  • Offer to run to the store
  • Make cookies
  • Grab take-out and tell them not to worry about dinner tonight
  • Mow their yard or rake their leaves
  • Write a note of encouragement
  • Pick some flowers
  • Say a prayer
  • Simply ask: How can I help?

Together we can make 9/11 a day of light and hope by collectively running toward someone who needs a reprieve from the heaviness of life.

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..