A December Creed (For Those Who Wish to End a Hard Year on a High Note)

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To smile so warmly people can’t help but smile back

To be so present in the now that long-held regrets fall off my radar

To have so little expectation it’s commonly exceeded

To have so much compassion it commonly spreads beyond boundary lines

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To be so generous with canned goods, warm clothes, and spare change, that my hands become empty and my heart becomes full

To say all the loving words there are to say so nothing gets left unsaid

To breathe so deeply some might think I’m a yoga instructor.

To laugh so hard my kids might think I’ve lost my mind.

To invite so openly and spontaneously there’s no time to clean or prep or make a fuss

12 vows not to fill with stuff

To be an encourager not a critic

To be a soul builder not a dream crusher

To listen so closely I hear the hurt behind the words

To look so closely I see similarities instead of differences

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To listen more than I speak

To love more than I fear

To hope more than I doubt

To fill the air with so much positivity, negativity has no room to breathe

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To be so attuned to my heart that I obey when it tells me to take a moment to cuddle or pray or appreciate the sky

To forgo the mirror so often I forget it’s there

To be so focused on what’s good in my people that I overlook their messiness, their mishaps, and their mild annoyances

To be so still and available my beloveds use me as home base.

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To spot the silver lining so vividly even the naysayers can see it too

To practice so much self kindness, self compassion, and self acceptance it ripples beyond self

But most of all … yes, most of all … my December creed is this:

To remember 2016 is not over yet.

Yes, it was hard.

Yes, it had many disappointments.

Yes, it broke my heart too many times to count.

But there are still 31 days left of this year,

And that means there is still time …

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Still time to heal brokenness

Still time to salvage the pieces

Still time to love one another well

There is still time for hope, healing, and love to make a late entrance to the party so we can embrace them and whisper, “I knew you’d come.”

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31 days, my friends. We’ve still got 31 days.

Let’s make it a grand possibility.

Starting right now.

Starting with you.

Starting with me.

Together, there is still great hope for 2016.

© Rachel Macy Stafford 2016

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Dear ones, thank you for being part of The Hands Free Revolution. If you enjoyed this creed, please know I have written several others that are available as hand-lettered prints:

The Hands Free Pledge

Get Off the Scale Manifesto

The Presence Pledge

(new item) Love Prevails Over Failures, Flaws, & Imperfect Days

Both of my books, Hands Free Mama and Hands Free Life contain truthful storytelling and doable, daily strategies to bring more presence, love, and grace into your life. My third book, ONLY LOVE TODAY, is currently available for pre-order and releases on March 7. Thank you for your unending support of my work.   

 

An Empowering Way to Respond to Hurtful People

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“Cause peace and love ain’t so far
If we nurse our wounds before they scar.”
Alicia Keys

I can vividly remember certain times in my life when I have been deeply hurt, shamed, excluded, or violated by someone.

I clearly remember wanting the violators to understand the pain they caused, offer me a genuine apology, and hear them pledge to never do it to anyone else.

That happened once.

All the other times, there was either no resolution or no remorse. I walked away from the painful experiences feeling angry, conflicted, hopeless, and confused.

When my daughters began coming to me with their own hurtful experiences, I felt a familiar wave of unsettledness. In a few cases, there was somewhat of a resolution. But most of time, resolution did not happen. The person who inflicted the pain was either unremorseful, unaware, or unchanged. My children’s hurt was their hurt to bear and to deal with as best they could. As we talked through it, I wondered, is this it? Is this all we can do when someone hurts us?

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I Stood in Line to Vote & Saw Something Everyone Should See

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* Written while standing in an early voter line for two hours on Friday

The one standing behind you—she’s nervous and wonders if you notice her fidgeting.

The one in front of you—he’s desperately hoping he’s not going to be late to work. He can’t afford to be late.

That one in the yellow sweater—she just had a fight with her son. She’s practicing what she’ll say to him tonight.

The one wearing the Cubs ball cap is still riding the victory high. Gotta love that guy’s permanent smile.

That one in the floral scarf – she’s almost finished with chemo. Never has she been so grateful to be exercising her right to vote.

That new mom two rows over saw her baby’s first smile last night. She had no idea a smile could change her entire outlook on life.

Sunsets make that guy in the plaid tie weepy. Probably because his mom always pointed them out when he was a kid.

The gal with the curly ponytail is obsessed with that new show, This is Us. She DVR’ed it and is going to watch tonight.

The guy rubbing his chin is hoping to get some time off so he can take his dad fishing. He’s smiling to himself just thinking about the serenity of the water and their special connection that requires few words.

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That puffy-eyed woman really wishes she’d had time for another cup of coffee.

The guy with the pensive look is thinking about how he could better organize this entire system.

The one staring off in the distance noticed her mother’s memory has been slipping.

The one biting his nails is thinking about starting an exercise routine to take him through the holidays. He’s feeling determined not to add an extra ten pounds.

She feels like she’s constantly pulled in too many directions; this long line is not helping the situation.

He loves to watch his kids sleep. The divorce has been rough, but the bedtime tuck in brings him unexplainable peace. He’s grateful they’re with him tonight.

She battling pain. It’s worse than ever today, but she is here. She is here.

He’s overdue for a physical. Maybe he’ll make the appointment while standing in line. He knows his wife would be happy if he did.

She’s voting for the first time. Her excitement is palpable.

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Have you noticed?

 We are more alike than we are different.

We all have similar longings, similar worries, similar fears, hopes, and dreams.

Yes, the details of our stories and struggles are different, but our desire to live a meaningful life is not.

The one about to enter the voting booth wants prosperity, freedom, and safety for his children and grandchildren,

just like you.

The one with her hands tightly clasped together is looking for a glimmer of hope,

just like you.

Smile at her.

Ask her how her day is going.

Commiserate about the long line.

Compliment her sweater—yellow is her color.

See the one holding a toddler on her hip? Encourage her. Tell her gorgeous brown-eyed boy how patient he’s being.

See the one in the Kindness Matters t-shirt? Tell her how much you love her shirt, and ask her where she got it.

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Her heart beats, just like yours.

Her burdens get heavy at times, just like yours.

Her laugh is uncontrollable at times, just like yours.

She cries quietly in the car at times, just like you.

That father in the blue shirt will go home to his kids tonight. He will hold them close and hope for the best, as we all will.  Because essentially, we all want what is best for our country and our world.

Although it hasn’t felt like it lately, we all want to move in a positive direction – to gather ourselves, begin healing our wounds, and walk away from this election stronger than we’ve ever been.

It starts right now, right here in this line—the line of humanity.

Where we stand shoulder to shoulder, flaws and all, hearts broken but still beating.

The line of humanity …

Where that one over there is looking for a glimmer of hope, just like you.

And maybe, just maybe, your smile will be the hope she’s looking for but never expected to find at the polls.

Written by Rachel Macy Stafford while standing in an early voter line on Friday. #onlylovetoday

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What do hope someone sees in you when you stand in line at the polls? We can learn so much by noticing and listening to each other. If this post inspired you, would you kindly share it with others? Through you, this message has the potential to change more than just the atmosphere at the polls tomorrow. Let’s flood the world with kindness today and in the days to come.  Use the hashtag #WhatISawAtThePolls if you see something hopeful or make a new friend while standing in line. 

If you would like a wearable reminder to choose love like the one pictured above, please see the ONLY LOVE TODAY metal cuffs, leather bracelets, and silicone reminder bands. My new friend in the poll line told me we can find Kindness Matters t-shirts here

Thank you for being part of The Hands Free Revolution. I cherish all comments spoken & unspoken  Together, there is hope.   

Who I Was Behind Closed Doors Offers Hope for Negative Times

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“We all get to see
Who we grow up to be
And anchor when in doubt
An ocean when in drought
We aim for it all
We lift of these walls
To make this house our home.”
–Blue October, Home

While visiting New York City recently, my daughter lost her wallet. It contained babysitting and pet-sitting money she’d worked hard to earn over many months. While in the midst of her trying moment, a good Samaritan eating breakfast with his family stepped in. Although my daughter only knew his first name, city of residence, and occupation, we hoped it would be enough to let him know the impact of his loving action. I wrote the following public post:

Dear firefighter Gary from Phoenix who helped my 13-year-old daughter in NYC yesterday:

Last night my daughter got home from her special trip with her Grammy and Pops. She had so much to tell us about the memorials, the statues, the skyscrapers, the shows, and the people she saw. But once we were alone in her bedroom, her suitcase still untouched in the corner, it was you she talked about.

How you helped them look for her lost wallet when she was so distraught

How you expressed deep concern when you could have just gone about your day

How you somehow knew she’d lost an amount she’d worked hard earning for many months

How you looked into her tear-stained face, pressed money into her hand, and wished her a happy birthday

How you insisted she keep it when she said that wasn’t necessary

Her exact words last night were: “Mom, I was just kind of speechless. I just couldn’t believe a stranger would do that.”

This is the girl who prepared for this trip by watching 9/11 documentaries. This is the girl who was struck again and again by the way people helped each other. She said, “Look how people are running TOWARDS the pain and suffering instead of running away.”

Firefighter Gary, thank you for turning toward my daughter in her moment of despair. You did more than redeem a moment, a day, a trip … you redeemed humanity in the eyes of a 13-year-old girl. You confirmed that the helpers on the screen fifteen years ago still exist today. You confirmed that despite what she sees and hears on the news, good people of the world are still out there spreading hope like it’s their job.

My daughter was speechless yesterday, but last night she was not. And I wanted you to know what she said about you and what she will remember about that trip forever because of you. I hope this message reaches you.

With love and admiration,

Rachel Macy Stafford, an eternally grateful mother

#onlylovetoday #livelikegary

Six hours.

That is the brief amount of time it took the post to reach Gary. I’d severely underestimated the power of good people to deliver good news, and that gave me hope.

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I Was Perpetually Angry Until Joy Became My Goal

 

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“If I could say anything, anything
What would it be?
A good question for a distant reality
I would tell you that I love you
Even when it didn’t show.”
–Tristen Prettyman, Say Anything

I typically don’t read many Facebook status updates—and I especially don’t read them multiple times—but this particular one stopped me cold. It was an observation shared by my friend Nicki Salcedo. Whether penning a novel, an op-ed piece, or a Facebook status update, Nicki’s words never fail to provide enlightenment and introspection. This was Nicki’s informal, yet powerful observation:

“Nighttime soccer practice. I see a family I know. They have back-to- back practices for their girls. That amounts to three hours of soccer on a Tuesday night. 

Me: “Wow, you guys have a long night.”

Dad: “Yeah, but I’ve got to head over and cut my son’s hair. He has cancer. He’s in the hospital. I’m going to Northside.”

It is 7:30pm at night. We live across town from that hospital. The dad leaves. He calls his daughter the best nickname when she plays. He admits he doesn’t know much about soccer, but he’s learning.

I think about all these angry parents. Angry people. For what? They have everything and want more.

The quiet ones simply enjoy seeing their kids kick a ball.” –Nicki Salcedo

It was no mystery why I read Nicki’s observation three times.

Nor was it any mystery why her words made me cry.

I was that angry person.

I know because my husband had the courage to tell me. Something along the lines of: You walk around the house looking angry all the time. Your face is always set in a scowl.

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The Index Card Every Kid Needs to Get Today

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It was a chance for parents to get to know their child’s middle school teachers. We would spend ten minutes in each classroom listening to the teacher share his or her educational background, classroom procedures, and expectations. I wasn’t expecting to hear anything earth shattering that night, but I did. As soon as Mr. B began talking, I sensed I was in a very special place and there would be an important takeaway. My hope is that my takeaway becomes yours too.

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As parents settled into their seats, Mr. B immediately noted the stack of index cards in the middle of the desks. He invited us to take one and write down our child’s passions. “Connecting with each student is very important to me,” the science teacher explained. “Tapping into what makes them excited … what makes them come to life … is my goal,” he explained.

But here is where I went from simply listening to actually feeling his words:

“Nothing pains me more than walking down a school hallway and seeing a desolate look on a child’s face, like they are in prison. It pains me because that was me,” he said. “School felt like prison. I dreaded each and every day. Creating a classroom where kids are excited, comfortable, and known can make all the difference.”

And here is when two warm tears slid down my cheeks:

“Parents, I never want students in my class to stress if they need an extra day to prepare for a test or complete an assignment. There is a fine line between pushing our kids and understanding they have lots of things going on. I don’t want them to stress about my class,” he said reassuringly. “Have them talk to me. We’ll work it out.”

I felt a collective sigh of relief among those sitting around me. We’d never heard such a thing—perhaps in our whole lives. Just imagine how the students felt when they heard this beautiful offer of compassion and understanding. I thought to myself getting teary again.

Just then, the intercom sounded. The ten-minute session was up; it was time to go to the next class.

I didn’t want to leave.

I wanted to hear more pressure-relieving words of wisdom from this kind and generous educator.

“Oh, and if you and your child see me in the community, please walk up and say hi!” he said loudly over the pushing in of chairs and departure commotion. “I promise you won’t be bothering me. I never stop being a teacher. I am all in.”

He’s all in.

I looked down at my index card. I’d filled up both sides, my handwriting getting smaller and smaller towards the end. I had so much to say.

He’d asked about my girl—my smart, funny, conscientious, bright, beautiful girl. But because she is quiet and shy in school settings, people often never know who she really is.

But he asked. And more importantly, he wanted to know.

He’s all in.

And my heart nearly burst with gratitude because of it.

I stood in line behind all the other parents who wanted to shake the hand of the man who was creating an optimal learning environment for their child to thrive. Many of us hadn’t met anyone like him before. As expected, the gentle teacher looked into each person’s eyes and appeared grateful for the opportunity to meet them.

When I got home, my daughter asked which teacher did I think was her favorite.

“Mr. B,” I said without hesitation.

She smiled. “He is so kind and interesting, Mom. I am so glad I got him for a teacher.”

I sat down on the kitchen stool, anxious to tell her how he moved me to tears (minus the tears part because she would have been mortified by that detail.) “Mr. B asked us to fill out an index card detailing what you’re passionate about,” I told her. “He wants to get to know each one of his 150 students. Isn’t that remarkable?”

“Wow! What did you write?” she asked curiously.

“I took a picture so you could see,” I said handing her my phone.

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“Mom! Did you really fill up both sides?” she exclaimed, sounding slightly embarrassed and slightly delighted.

But her question didn’t require an answer. She was already reading my comments. A look of pure joy and peace settled on her face. Yes, she was known … and she wanted to be known. But don’t we all? Yet, oftentimes, we’re not. But Mr. B gave me hope. Which brings me to the takeaway I promised you:

Your child may not have a teacher like Mr. B and possibly never will. But there is something to be learned from this man that we can all use and offer today:

Connection – let us remember it is the key to understanding, acceptance, and assurance. It offers refuge from the pressures and critics of the world. Connection provides a secure foundation for human spirits to grow and flourish.

Pressure – let us be flexible with our demands and expectations. Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that a task or goal doesn’t have to be completed on our timeline or in a specific way. The healing and hopeful words, “don’t stress,” are a gift we can give to alleviate pressure and focus on what truly matters.

Availability – let us be one who is approachable – no matter how tired we are, no matter how busy we are, no matter how bad of a day we just had. If our children approach us, let love never be ‘off the clock.’ Offer a loving hello and an “I’m so glad to see you.” We might then become the one they seek out in times of despair and challenge.

Knowledge – let us never stop wanting to know what makes our loved ones excited, curious, passionate, and alive. Start a collection of index cards documenting what you are learning about your beloveds. Share it with them. Let them see how wonderful you think they are. And if you don’t know their passions, make it your mission to find out.

Today holds the opportunity to notice desolate faces as they walk through the hallways of our lives. As Mr. B reminds us, we hold a precious key—one that opens a passageway to potential with plenty of room to breathe.

I’m all in.

How about you?

Let’s fill the world with index cards, writing love on every line of our beloveds’ hopeful hearts.

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Friends, if you accept the index card challenge, please let us know in our Hands Free communities on Facebook & Instagram. Use the hashtag #indexcardchallenge so we can inspire each other! Please see the Presence Pledge print if you would like a visual reminder in your home to leave your loved one’s spirit stronger and brighter. See the Hands Free Shop for wearable reminders to choose connection and love over distraction and criticism. And now for some incredible resources to help us parent the way Mr. B teaches:

  • Co-Parenting Without Power Struggles is a free online series hosted by the incredible Susan Stiffelman, a certified marriage & family therapist with over 30 years of experience. Each of Susan’s guests will be sharing gems of wisdom and practical guidance around co-parenting and invaluable information for managing life as a single parent. Speakers include: Byron Katie, Martha Beck, Glennon Doyle Melton, Harville Hendrix, Dr. Michele Borba, Dr. Laura Markham, Katherine Woodward Thomas, and John Gray. Registration for the entire series of classes is absolutely FREE, and replays of the classes will be available for all who register in advance. Click here to register. The summit airs September 20 – 24.
  • Casey O’Roarty of Joyful Courage has written a powerful article called “10 Steps to Becoming a More Intentional Parent.” If that article resonates with you, I encourage you to join Casey in her Intentional Parent Project. It is a 10-week course beginning Monday, September 12th that joins the internal work of parenting with external tools for inviting more cooperation and contribution into the home.

A final note from Rachel: California Bay Area friends, just a few more days until we are together! Last minute seats are expected to come available for this sold out event. Email Carol at carol@cpcdanville.org to inquire about a ticket! Friends in other parts of the country, please see my event page for four speaking events scheduled for this fall and spring.

Thank you for sharing your stories & your encouragements! The comment section of this blog and the Facebook page are pure gold because of you.

An Unusual Term for Death that Helps Me Live Fully in Today

DSC_0219“It’s the perfect time of day
It’s the last day of your life
Don’t let it drift away
While your heart is still racing
It’s the perfect time of day.”
Howie Day

I avoided a particular closet in my house for two years. Stacked inside were five large, plastic bins stuffed with loose papers, writing notebooks, and keepsakes I didn’t have time to file before we moved two years ago. Coincidentally, the items inside the containers were collected during the first four years of my journey to a less distracted life.

For the past two years, I’ve wanted to go through the massive collection piece by piece, determining whether it should be filed or discarded. But the task was immense and intimidating. It was much easier to avoid the closet altogether and plan on doing it another day.

‘Another day’ finally arrived in July when I was taking a month-long break from blogging and posting online to spend time with my family and focus on an on-going physical pain in my body.

I was only halfway through the first container when I was generously rewarded for taking on this monumental task. There, among the disarray, was something that didn’t belong to me. It was a booklet of poems addressed to my dad. I’m not sure why I had it. I’d never seen it before.

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A Way for Kids to Learn What the Right Choice Feels Like

DSC_0472 “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.” –Helen Keller

The litter of kittens arrived at our house last Wednesday night just before midnight. It was a desperate situation—I knew the minute I heard the emotional plea from the owner of the cat shelter where my daughters and I volunteer.

“The maintenance man at a nearby apartment building was going to kill them if no one came and got them.”

Kill them –

Not call animal control or ask some of the apartment residents if they could help.

Kill them.

Just kill them.

“I can detect empty threats, Rachel, and this is not one of them,” the shelter owner continued. “I know you did not sign up to foster cats, but I already have twenty in my house. I wanted to see if you’d be willing to foster the kittens until they’re old enough to be placed up for adoption.”

While I am usually a planner, thinking carefully through all decisions that impact our family, I answered immediately. “Yes, of course,” I said without hesitation, praying my not-a-fan-of-cats husband would understand.

Very late that night the five-week-old kittens arrived. My older daughter Natalie insisted on waiting by the door and helping me get them settled. It was only their second night without their mother who was very sick from outdoor elements, lack of nourishment, and an infectious tick bite.

But the kittens did not cry. They relaxed when we held them. They purred loudly and nestled in for warmth.

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The next morning I sent an explanatory text message (hopeful plea) to my husband who was out of town at the time of the kittens’ arrival. I also added some adorable photos for extra reinforcement. (Couldn’t hurt!)

A few minutes later, my husband texted back: “You did the right thing.”
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The Sleep Plan That Eased My Child’s Worries & Made Me a Better Person

DSC_0911“Let me carry your burden
If something’s not right I will let you know
Like the paint that’s drying on a heart that’s poor
Let me carry your burden
Get you back on a high when you’re feeling low
When the weight’s too heavy but you won’t let go.”
Foy Vance, Burden

Last week my daughters and I traveled to the beautiful hills of Asheville, North Carolina to celebrate my precious parents’ 54th wedding anniversary. My younger daughter begged to room with my older sister, Rebecca. This meant my almost 13-year-old daughter, Natalie, and I would be roomies. Although I was thrilled for this sacred time with her, I knew this combination could mean trouble. The two of us are cut from the same ultra productive, list-checking, resistant-to-relax cloth and have the tendency to come alive at night. Whether it’s watching a show, organizing a closet, planning a project, or playing with our cat, we don’t wind down; we wind up. While it can feel like a good idea at the time, there is always a repercussion for sacrificing sacred sleeping hours. It doesn’t take long to see the telltale signs of sleep deprivation in my girl. Within a few days, there are dark circles underlined with irritability, forgetfulness, and distractibility. I can recognize these danger signs in my daughter because I spent two years denying them in myself.

Contained within the two-year period of my intentional sleep deprivation are some of my most painful and embarrassing memories. During that time, I smashed my husband’s coffee pot in anger. I blew through a red light while completely lost in thought, nearly hitting the driver of an oncoming truck. I screamed at my beautiful family one night and ran out to my car, pajamas clad and barefoot, thinking I might leave forever.

There are more stories, all equally difficult to type through blurry tears. But one can be certain my sleep deprivation stories all contain irrational thinking, poor decision making, overreaction, raised voices, and regret … lots and lots of regret.

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Being Kindest to the Ones You’re Closest To

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“We are love.
We are one.
We are how we treat each other when the day is done.
We are peace.
We are war.
We are how we treat each other and nothing more.”
–The Alternate Routes

Being an author can be a lonely occupation. But most of the time, my introverted self thrives in the solitude. I relish the control I have over work decisions and work environment. But there are times, particularly book deadlines times, when I’d do anything to have a colleague peek over the cubicle and say, “We’re in the home stretch! We got this!” or “You want to take the last few paragraphs of this section, and I’ll run with the conclusion?”

As I neared my recent book deadline, I felt the aloneness, the weight of it all, bearing down squarely on my shoulders. With this being my third book, it was possible most people assumed I had this in the bag. Rachel’s got this—most of my loyal supporters probably thought. But I didn’t. Instead of becoming more energized as I reached the finish line, I became more uncertain, more emotional, and more depleted. I knew I was going to drag myself across the finish line, and it wasn’t going to be pretty. I saw the red flags—the urge to speak in short, snippy responses … the lack of patience … the surplus of irritability. Sadly, my discontent was directed at one person—the person I am closest to … the person who loves me at my worst … the person who knows me better than anyone else.

My husband knew the book deadline was looming, but hadn’t noted the exact day it was due. In his mind, he was doing many things to support me during this intense and challenging time. But in my mind, I was alone in my cubicle. My team had deserted me. The momentous March 1st date starred and circled on my calendar for almost a year was just another day at my house. The team high-fives and clinking glasses I’d been hoping for didn’t happen. As you can guess, my fatigued, weary self did not communicate my disappointment to my husband very well.

The good news was there were no slamming doors or tearful meltdowns. There were no squealing tires or smashed coffee pots like the days of old. But there was a severe lack of perspective. I could only see the situation through my eyes. And because of my fragile state of aloneness, it was hard to let go of my disappointment and see it any other way.
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