If 2014 Tried You or Tested You, Do This

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“This is not the end of me,
This is the beginning.
Hold on.
I am still alive.”
-Christina Perri
I Believe, 2013

He was a new friend of mine. We had a class together, hung out at a few parties, and I’d helped him on a paper at the campus computer lab. So when he asked me to go out with some of his friends late one night, I thought, ‘Why not?’ It would be fun to hang out with a different crowd than usual.

We played pool at a downtown pub for a few hours, and then headed back to campus. We’d just entered the mile-long entrance to the college when the unexpected happened. The driver of the vehicle announced he would be turning off the headlights “for fun.”

Even in the light of day this particular road was quite difficult to maneuver. I’d always chosen the back entrance due to this particular road’s narrow shoulder and dangerous curves.

I could feel the car escalating to a higher elevation with every sharp bend. Although I could not see the drop off that plummeted into a deep ravine, I knew it was there. One wrong turn of the wheel would change everything.

I desperately wanted say, “Okay man, that’s enough,” or “C’mon, turn the lights back on,” but I could not speak. I was paralyzed in the backseat, gripping the door handle so tightly that it felt like my fingernails were bleeding. As the wind blew my hair back with a powerful force, it dawned on me that my window was open. That’s the moment I began plotting and planning my survival.

I decided that if the driver would take the curve too fast and lose control, I would jump out the open window. Then I would hang onto the edge of that steep incline with all my strength. I imagined myself being discovered at daybreak by my favorite English professor heading to her office to start her day. There I would be, hanging on, my fingernails filled with dirt.

As the driver continued swerving this way and that way into pitch-black nothingness, I prayerfully repeated my plan: Jump. Hang on. Dig your nails into the earth and don’t let go. Don’t let go. It is not your time to go.

Over the past six months, I’ve thought more about that terrifying ride than I ever have in my life. That dark, windy road has been working its way into my dreams. Several life stressors this fall have left me feeling anxious, frustrated, disheartened, and confused. When I fall asleep thinking about a particular worry, those are the nights the road comes into play. Interestingly, this recurring dream is not a nightmare. Nor is it a good dream with a happy ending. In fact, there is no ending. I always wake up before it is over, but one thing is for certain: I always feel comforted by it.

I can feel the dirt under my nails.

I can feel myself hanging on for dear life.

The fears I face don’t seem so bad the morning after I’ve been on that dark, windy road and survived to tell about it.

A few weeks ago I noticed that a writer friend of mine was going through a string of unfortunate events. When I reached out to her, she confided in me that in addition to the personal issues her family was facing, she’d received several rejection letters in regard to her recently completed novel. As I was about to express my support and concern, she added that whenever she got the rejection notices, she said something to herself that renewed her hope.

It was these two words: “Rachel believes.”

Little did I know that by declaring myself this woman’s #1 fan the first time I read her writing and consistently supporting her endeavors, I would one day enable her to hang on when she found herself wondering if she should give up.

It was not her time to go. I had the ability to remind her of that. I had the ability to point out the dirt beneath her fingernails that she might’ve otherwise missed. I had the ability to remind her that she was strong … talented … and the world needed her words.

And so I have. And my friend continues to send out query letters until she receives one yes. After all, one yes is all she needs. My friend and I have already talked about how we will celebrate her determination … her tenacity … her ability to hang on.

if 2014 tried you & tested you HFM
But this story does not end here. Due to the providential timing of this message coming from my fingertips, I am certain this message is meant to be expanded to include others.

Because 2014 was hard for many, many people.

For you, it might be going down as one of the worst years you can remember.

For you, it may have brought you to your knees more times than you could count.

For you, it may have left you breathless … hopeless … tired and weary.

But before you eagerly slam the door on 2014, I ask you to look down at your hands.

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See that dirt under your fingernails?

My friend, that is beautiful. That is remarkable. That is significant.

You could have let go. But you didn’t.

You could have given up. But you didn’t.

You hung on.

You hung on.

And here’s what I believe:

I believe 2014 was not your worst year, but possibly your greatest.

Your Year of Greatest Strength
Your Year of Greatest Faith
Your Year of Greatest Hope
Your Year of Greatest Patience
Your Year of Greatest Risk
Your Year of Greatest Determination
Your Year of Greatest Courage

Just look at that dirt beneath your fingernails.

That is what you are made of.

Isn’t it beautiful? Isn’t it remarkable? Isn’t it significant?

It was your Year of Greatest Survival.

And you lived to tell about it.

Thank you for holding on.

Let us celebrate.

Let us celebrate.

The light overcame the darkness.

if 2014 tried you & tested you HFM*****************************************

As I wrote this piece, a dozen faces came to mind. Several dear friends of mine have survived a very tough year. I am going to share this piece with them to let them know I see how much they have overcome. If you know someone who has hung on triumphantly, I’d be grateful if you shared this post.

In the spirit of celebration, there is FREE domestic shipping on all the beautiful items in the Hands Free Shop today through Friday, December 19. Use this discount code: HOLIDAYFREESHIP. International orders can use the code for a discount on their shipping costs. Also, the super comfy & stylish LIVE HANDS FREE vintage t-shirts are reduced to $10 during this same time period. Domestic orders placed before Saturday, December 20 are expected to arrive by December 24th, but cannot be guaranteed. I’d be honored if you considered the prints or the bracelets as gifts to express your love & appreciation or to use as visual reminders for how you want to live in 2015.

 *VERY IMPORTANT follow-up to last week’s post: The Manager in My Home & the Five Words that Changed Everything has reached over 4 million people because of your willingness to share a message of hope & healing! I have received many courageous messages asking for further guidance. My dear colleague Sandy Blackard, who is an award-winning author and parenting coach, is helping me respond to these messages and has provided insightful answers to some of the questions posed in the comment section of the blog post. Sandy has condensed all her responses into one succinct blog post. If you would like to make sure things get done on time without rushing or over-managing your children OR if you are yearning to put perfectionism aside and provide guidance without criticism or negative correction, read these seven tips: “On Time with Empowered Children”

 Thank you, friends of The Hands Free Revolution, for being part of this incredibly supportive community seeking to let go of distraction & perfection to live more & love more today! You are my daily blessing.

The Manager in My Home & the Five Words that Changed Everything

manager 1 HFM

Every couple of weeks I patiently untangle the knots of strawberry-blonde hair that sit at the base of my child’s neck. As I sat on the corner of the tub the other night gently loosening an especially stubborn clump while my daughter chattered about her day, I couldn’t stop the tears.

Those wet tangles I held in my hand were tangible signs of progress—tangible proof that letting go can happen even in the most problematic hearts. My wish is that by sharing where I once was and where I am now, others will feel hope they didn’t feel in awhile. Perhaps by reading about my messy, tangles of progress, others will see their own. This is my story …

There was a time in my life when I barked orders more often than I spoke words of love … when I reacted to small everyday inconveniences as if they were major catastrophes … when normal human habits and quirks raised my blood pressure to dangerous levels.

Rather than nurturing my family members, I took it upon myself to manage my family members until there was no room to bend or breathe.

My artistic, busybody, dream-chasing older daughter’s desire to create multiple projects at once, try new recipes, and keep towering stacks of books and magazines by her bedside received disapproving looks on a daily basis.

My stop-and-smell-the-roses younger daughter’s desire to buckle stuffed animals before we departed, accessorize every part of her body before walking out the door, and move at a snail’s pace drew exasperated breaths and annoyed frowns.

My fun-loving, laidback husband’s spontaneous approach to weekend plans and ability to totally chill out got the silent treatment more times that I could count.

The people I was supposed to love unconditionally possessed qualities that irritated, annoyed, and continually derailed my carefully planned agenda—an agenda that was all about efficiency, perfection, and control.

I was not acting as a mother or a wife or even a decent human being. I was acting as a surly manager who was intent on creating a toxic environment—a place where it was pretty hard to show up each and every day.

How do I know?

Because even I could barely stand myself. The impatient person I’d become woke up angry and irritated as I braced myself for another day of managing the unmanageable. Forget about living. Forget about smiling. Forget about counting the blessings. The Grumpy Manager didn’t do that. And everyone in the home began following suit.

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Rude Reactions, Angry Outbursts, & Ladders that Lift

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“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
-Plato

I tried to get the attention of my daughters but they were intently focused on their pre-swim meet warm up. I decided that if I hurried, I could get to my car to retrieve what I’d forgotten before their warm up concluded.

Although I was parked at the back of a mile-long parking lot, I walked quickly and was back to the front the door of the natatorium in less than seven minutes. I was heading through the double doors that led into the pool area when a stern voice stopped me in my tracks.

“Timers, that way!” an older gentleman in an official uniform was barking orders at me. Even his finger, which stiffly pointed to a dark equipment room off to the side, appeared angry. It was as if I was a child being sent to my room for misbehaving. I was speechless … and unmoving.

The man jabbed his finger angrily once more in the direction he wanted me to go. His face had now become a dangerous color of red. I was in complete disbelief. All this over my entry through a door? Seriously?

“I am not a timer,” I said calmly to the man, attempting to model a normal speaking voice. “I am a parent who is trying to get to her children.” I then proceeded to walk through the doors I intended to go in the first place.

But yet again, I was blocked. The man’s entire hand was now in front of me. “THAT WAY!” he screamed pointing back to the dreary equipment room that clearly didn’t look like a pathway to the pool to me.

Upon further inspection, I saw a steady stream of parents and meet officials heading that way. I surmised that the main pool door had been closed to walk-through traffic when I ran out to my car. But how was I to know? There were no signs, no yellow tape, and no caution cones – only this not-so-jolly navigator who wasn’t doing anything to enlighten me.

I began walking in the direction the man desperately wanted me to go, but then I stopped. I turned back around, looked him straight in the eye and said, “Why do you have to be so rude?”

I was not expecting an answer, but I got one.

“I fell off a ladder yesterday,” the man said irritably, his angry tone still alive and well.

I stood there for a moment looking at this man … this man who didn’t want to be there … this man who was in pain … this man who was perhaps fed up with life and feeble bones.

And that is when I realized this man’s anger had nothing to do with me.

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Drowning Out the Inner Critic

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She’d asked me to get in the bathroom stall with her while she put on the swim team suit that she’d been given to wear to the meet. I hesitated. The stall was exceptionally small and the air conditioning in the building was not working. But there was a pleading in my child’s eyes that seemed hauntingly familiar so I accompanied her.

She immediately asked me to turn away. I crammed myself into the corner. The bathroom door hinge was two inches from my nose. I was already sweating and I was not the one wrestling with a fierce duo of nylon and spandex.

I had a bad feeling about this.

Behind me there was grunting, wiggling, pulling, stretching. There was a tremendous amount of exhausting effort going on back there. I could feel the frustration radiating from my child through the back of my shirt. Or maybe it was sweat.

“Everything okay?” I asked with a cringe.

“I.Can’t.Get.It.On!” my child burst out.

“Would you like me to help?” I asked hopefully. “I’d be happy to help,” I repeated desperately hoping to improve the situation.

After a few more grunts and sighs, my child accepted my offer.

“But close your eyes, Mama,” she instructed.

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How to Change Someone’s Story

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This summer my family moved to a new state. Over the past couple months, I’ve repeatedly heard my younger daughter say, “I still don’t feel like this is home. It feels like we’re on a trip, and we need to get back.”

Sometimes she says it through tears. Other times she says it just matter-of-factly. And sometimes she even laughs about it. This fluctuation of emotions pretty much sums up the ups and downs that go along with moving.

But I must admit something. My daughter’s recurring comment, whether said through laughter or tears, has worried me. You see, this particular child is my Firefly with glasses that sit on the tip of her nose. She has prominent freckles and unruly hair that refuses to behave in a smooth and orderly fashion. This child is a Noticer with a keen awareness of other people’s struggles and fears, especially her own. On more than one occasion she’s maturely expressed that she is “different” from the rest. This child is a friend to all but not really attached to one. She marches to her own beat, makes up her own lyrics, sings like no one is listening. What happens to someone like this when thrown into a new environment with people who know nothing of her inner gifts? Back in our former community, she was loved and celebrated “as is”. We are now in a much bigger city where life is fast and unfamiliar. Would her light brighten or dim here? I’ve wondered many times.

Well, I was just at the height of my worry when something happened. I guess you could call it a game changer. In this case, I’m calling it a story changer. I share this experience as a means of grasping what matters in a fast-paced, overly distracted, pressure-cooker world. Whether we are lost or we are found, just a few moments with open hands and attentive eyes can turn things around.

This is our story …

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To Build (or Break) a Child’s Spirit

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If you needed to lose weight, what would be most motivating?

You are fat. I’m not buying you any more clothes until you lose weight!

Or:

Let’s take a walk after dinner.
I’ll let you make the salad.
I love you just the way you are, exactly as you are.

If you needed to learn how to swim, what would be most motivating?

I don’t want to hear your crying. Get in the water and swim! Don’t be a baby!

Or:

I’ll be right by your side.
You can do this. If not today, we’ll try again tomorrow.
I love you just the way you are, exactly as you are.

If you needed to practice better hygiene, what would be most motivating?

What is that awful smell? It’s a wonder you have any friends.

Or:

Let’s go to the store and pick out some deodorant.
Your hair smells so good when you wash it. I think you should wash it every day.
I love you just the way you are, exactly as you are.

If your table manners needed improvement, what would be most motivating?

You eat like a pig. I cannot stand to watch you eat. You are disgusting.

Or:

I am trying to put down my fork after each bite, I’d like you to join me.
Thank you for chewing with your mouth closed.
I love you just the way you are, exactly as you are.

If you are a bit clumsy and disorganized, what would motivate you to be more responsible?

Can’t you do anything right? You are either losing things or making a mess!

Or:

Everyone makes mistakes. That’s how we learn.
It’s no big deal—just get a rag and clean it up.
I love you just the way you are, exactly as you are.

At times in my life I have been overweight, scared to swim, smelly, ill-mannered, and disorganized. During those times, I could have used some encouragement. So when I saw the young boy ordered to get out of the pool because he was scared to swim, I cried with him from behind my sunglasses. I saw the disappointment in the man’s eyes as he looked at his shivering son hugging his knees to his chest. The man really wanted his boy to learn to swim. He thought reprimanding him and ignoring the boy’s cries would motivate him to try harder next time.

At times in my life, I thought this too …

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Where Haters Can’t Tread

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In processing our family’s upcoming move to a new state, I’ve noticed my seven-year-old daughter is unable to think of all the people she will miss all at once. Instead, she’s been experiencing a slow awareness that highlights one person at a time. It’s sad and painful and sweeps her back to the moment she heard we were moving—when tears dotted the front of her blue GAP t-shirt.

It happened the other night as she was getting out her guitar to practice her latest Taylor Swift song. My child came flying into the kitchen—and this time it wasn’t to stall her practice session. I recognized that pitifully sad look on her face—the one that said the world as she knew it was crumbling a little more.

“I’m not going to have music lessons with Mr. Andrew anymore,” she said her lip quivering slightly. Huge tears formed in her eyes as she mumbled, “There won’t be another one like him, Mama.”

“Andrew’s been your ukulele and guitar teacher since you were itty bitty. He’s one of the kindest, most patient people we know, isn’t he? I am so glad you have all these years with him.” Without thinking, I instinctively opened my arms to my child. She nestled in and fit quite perfectly despite a significant growth spurt this spring.

I studied her smooth, round face and saw two fat tears escape from the corners of her closed eyes. My daughter stood there for a moment pressing her face against my stomach. I just held her in silence, smoothing stray hairs away from her face. I didn’t have any magic words. In fact, I didn’t have any words at all.

Within thirty seconds, my daughter stopped crying. She turned and went back to the living room and picked up her guitar. She began to sing and strum with vigor. I could tell by the passion in her voice that she was going to make the most of her remaining time with Mr. Andrew. She was going to be okay.

And I just stood there taking it all in.

Because in that moment, I felt better about myself than I had in months. And it was due to one simple fact: I bring comfort to my child. In fact, I am pretty darn good at it.

And I bet you are too.

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Today I Lived and You Did Too

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Today I was awakened by the sound of shuffling feet.
It was my early-bird riser in her big sister’s pajamas that drug across the floor.
I wanted to pull the covers over my head and feign sleep.
But instead I got up and made toaster waffles that she said tasted “divine.”
She kissed me with syrupy sweet lips.
Getting up wasn’t my first response. But I did it.
Today I lived.

Today she lost her shoes for the 37th time in two weeks.
It was right before we needed to head out the door.
I wanted to scream, to scold, to throw my hands in the air.
But instead I held her. I held her. My shoeless girl.
Together we found them wet with dew in the backyard and she whispered, “Sorry, I am forgetful, Mama.”
Being calm wasn’t my first response. But I did it.
Today I lived.

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Children Who Shine From Within

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“What’s your favorite insect?” my seven-year-old daughter asked as we took an evening walk on the first night of her spring vacation. “You can’t pick butterfly. Everyone picks the butterfly,” she quickly added before I had a chance to respond.

“Hmmmm,” I thought out loud. “I guess mine would have to be a ladybug,” I finally answered.

“Mine’s a firefly. I love the firefly,” she said wistfully.

We kept walking. Talking. Enjoying the rare treat of alone time—just my younger daughter and me.

And then:

“Am I okay? I mean, am I fine?” she asked looking down at herself.  “Sometimes I feel different.”

I immediately stopped walking and searched her face. Without saying what she meant, I knew; I just knew.

I bent down and spoke from a painful memory tucked away since second grade. “When I was your age. I felt different too. I felt uncomfortable, self conscious. One boy said really cruel things about the way I looked. He said I didn’t belong. His words hurt me for a long, long time,” I admitted.

As she looked at me sadly, her previous words echoed in my head. “Everyone picks the butterfly,” she’d pointed out a moment ago.

I placed my hands on her sturdy little shoulders as if somehow this could make her feel my words right down to the bone. “I want you to know something. You can always talk to me when you feel different or uncomfortable. I will never laugh. I will never judge you or tell you it’s no big deal. I will never brush away your feelings because I understand. I remember how it hurts. And some times you just need someone to understand that hurt.”

“I love the firefly,” she had said a moment ago. I then realized I had something she could hold on to.

“You mentioned that you love the firefly,” I reminded her. “Well, I think you’re a lot like a firefly. You know why?” I asked.

The worry on her face lifted. She looked at me hopefully. “Why, Mama?”

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

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“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.

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