Day Openers to Breathe More, Stress Less, & Carry You Through

“Hope that you spend your days
And they all add up.
And when that sun goes down
Hope you raise your cup.”
 -One Republic, I Lived

Last weekend my 12-year-old daughter prepared a special birthday gift for one of her best friends. As a generous gift giver from an early age, it did not surprise me that Natalie put great thought into gathering her friend’s favorite things. Having outgrown the tendency to re-gift gently used items from around the house, the basket was filled with items Natalie purchased with her hard-earned babysitting money. What did surprise me about this gift were the envelopes tucked inside. My younger daughter discovered them while admiring the gift before her sister left for the party.

“Wow! This is so thoughtful,” I told my older daughter when she discovered her little sister and me bent over the gift basket. Natalie quickly gathered the envelopes up. I sensed she didn’t want us to make a fuss over this special touch, but I had to ask, “What’s inside the envelopes?”

“Just inspirational messages,” she said as she hugged the basket to her chest and headed to the door. “They’re just words to help my friend through situations that might come up.”

day openers HFM

day openers HFM

day openers HFM

Just words to carry her through.

There was nothing just about that.

Although I could not know for sure, I felt certain those envelopes would outlive the Eos lip balm. They would be more coveted than the warm PJ pants. They would be remembered long after the party was over. At the age of 12, this child got it—she got the point. I live each day of my life desperately wanting to get it too.

But so often I fall short—especially during chaotic, busy times like holidays. I get caught up in what’s on the outside—the tasks, the preparation, and how it looks. I forget what’s underneath—the memories, the connections, and how it feels. In light of personal health struggles and worldly tragedies, I don’t want to miss the point this holiday season.

Perhaps you don’t either.

So I’ve taken a page from Natalie’s book. I’ve written some special “OPEN WHEN …” inspirational passages for us to use in the days ahead. They have been created in the spirit of Hands Free Life Daily Declarations which help me (and many who are reading my new book) start the day in a positive, intentional direction. My talented friend Kristin of Two Cannoli made the 9 Day Openers into a beautiful printable found at the end of the post for our ease. Feel free to use each Day Opener as a mantra, a prayer, a lifeline, or an aspiration. Feel free to use them in order, trusting that message will be exactly what you need that day. Or feel free to use the same opener day after day if it really resonates with you. Feel free to print them, cut them, post them, or tuck them in your purse or wallet and carry them with you. Feel free to pass them on. Feel free to gift them as if you wrote them yourself. But most of all, feel free to live them. Let us all live out these life-enhancing day-openers as much as humanly possible. Let us not miss the point this holiday season.

9 Day Openers to Carry Us Through 

Open when … it’s hard to show up:

Today I will show up even when it’s hard, even when it requires going out of my comfort zone, even when it means facing people who are difficult to face. I will be kind to myself and give myself grace for trying. I shall clasp my hands together and show up. I shall hold my own hand and be brave. Today I will not walk away from the chance to offer myself a divine invitation to step fully into life and shine in all my glory.

Open when … you want to feel grateful:

Today when I make the bed, I will rest my hand on the warm spot where my beloved slept. If I hold my hand there for just a moment, this action has the power to change my attitude, alter my perspective, and soften my heart about bed making and other monotonous tasks that consume my life. That one tiny glimpse of goodness will bring peace in the midst of challenge, exhaustion, and uncertainty. That one tiny connection to what really matters will fuel me forward. My goal today will not be how much I accomplish, but how much I noticed the goodness within it.

day openers HFM

Open when … you need self-care:

Today I will remember I have limits. I have dreams. I have needs. I deserve affection, rest, sustenance, and grace, just like everyone else. Even the one who holds up the world needs a reprieve. Even the one who doles out the love needs replenished. Even the best fall down sometimes. Today it is necessary to look after me. This may look like a cup of tea, a long walk, a good book, more water, more sleep, or more forgiveness. Today it is necessary to breathe life into my weary bones. I am worthy of love too.

Open when … the outside world ignites fear, stress, or despair:

Today I will turn my attention away from the negativity filling my senses and my newsfeed. I will turn to the people I love and notice there is still so much goodness to be grasped and celebrated. Goodness comes down the stairs with crazy morning hair. It has a milk mustache and stinky feet. It puts gasoline in my car and kisses me goodnight. It bags my grocery with a smile. It teaches my children. It hugs me with shaky, wrinkled hands. The ability to detect goodness where others see no good is more than a day changer; it’s a life changer. Today I will notice the good in the world and in my world.

day openers HFM

Open when… you want LOVE to be your first response:

Today I will take a 3-second pause before responding in times of conflict, stress, and struggle. In that momentary pause, I will see the person in front of me as a human being with a need or a hurt – not as an annoyance or an inconvenience in my day. Today is not going to go perfectly; this I know. Important items will be forgotten. We will be late getting on the road. Things might not fit. There will be long lines and rudeness. But I will not contribute to the negativity. If strive to communicate with hints of kindness and traces of love, I have the power to save the moment—and quite possibly, save the day.

Open when … you want to DO less and BE more:

Today I refuse to be a moving target that my family cannot hold. Today I refuse to multi-task the moments away. Next week, next year, or ten years from now, my family will not remember what I made for dinner—whether it was from a box or homemade. They will not remember if the bathroom counter shined or if it was covered in globs of toothpaste. But they will probably remember if I laugh at the dinner table or hugged them fiercely at bedtime. Today I want them to remember my laugh and my hugs more than anything else.

day openers HFM

Open when … you need to forgive yourself

Today I will not look back in regret. Whether it was a mistake from yesterday or ten years ago, it is in the past. Dwelling on it or berating myself for it comes at a cost. It sabotages the opportunity of this moment—to make a memory, to create a loving connection, or to feel joy in my soul. Oftentimes, I am the only one standing in my way of a new beginning. Today I will not stand in my own way. Today is a new beginning. I shall grasp it with both hands.

Open when … you lose sight of what matters:

 Today I shall not collapse in utter exhaustion without having one significant memory to cherish because I chose to be too busy, too annoyed, too distracted, and too focused on perfection and productivity to recognize and appreciate the blessings in my life. Today my goal for my family is this: To gather together with our messy, imperfect hearts and create memories that outlast us all.

Because when we do this, we can breathe … and love … and maybe even laugh a little during this precious time we have.

Let us be open … open to the goodness right at our fingertips and under our breath.

The goodness shall carry us through.

day openers HFM


In an effort to be fully present with my people and my beating heart, the blog and Hands Free Revolution page will be quiet for a spell. But trust me, by living fully I will be gathering insights and reflections to share with you upon my return. If you happen to be at Target doing some holiday shopping and need a meaningful gift for someone you love (or you!) Hands Free Life is there! You made it happen! My book will be stocked there through the holidays because you supported it during the trial period. I am so grateful! And if you are an online shopper, HANDS FREE LIFE can be found right here. It is chock full of daily declarations and truthful stories about breathing, living, and loving. The stellar Amazon reviews are saying it’s a life-changer. That makes my heart full.

 And lastly, if you should get to take a walk or have some ME time and want to hear a mindfulness expert with a beautiful Australian accent ask me important questions about living an intentional life, please listen to this lovely chat I had with Brooke of Slow Your Home. You can forward to the 11-minute mark if you want to get right to the conversation.

* Don’t forget to print the list below made by my lovely and talented writer friend, Kristin Shaw. If you feel it’s going to help you in some way over the next week or month, I’d be grateful if you share it with someone else. Let’s spread the hope & goodness. Unsaved Preview Document

The Glass Jar Every Human Being Needs to Hold

the jar of love #HFM“If I don’t say this now I will surely break
As I’m leaving the one I want to take.” –The Fray

“Is there a chance something could happen?” she asked. “You know … with the surgery.”

I knew what my eight-year-old daughter was asking. Although it had just dawned on her that something could go terribly wrong, the thought had plagued me for weeks.

“Well, it’s possible, but not likely. People have surgery all the time and they come out just fine—actually, they come out better than before. I think that is how it will be with me. But we can pray.”

And so we bowed our heads my child let her fears and hopes be known.

I decided to keep my greatest fear to myself—the one where surgery sabotaged my plan of doling out daily bits of love, wisdom, and guidance as my children grow.

If I could bottle up my love I would. I thought to myself.

And then I remembered—there was a way to bottle up my love. I’d shown a group of 31 fifth graders how to do just that a few months ago.

[Read more…]

The Loss of Life Beneath Your Skin & How to Revive It

making tea HFM“We push and pull
And I fall down sometimes
And I’m not letting go
You hold the other line
‘Cause there is a light
In your eyes, in your eyes.”
–Mat Kearney

A few months ago my newly turned 12-year-old daughter got into making iced tea.

We seek out new flavors at quaint little farmers’ markets and at fancy tea shops in the mall. My child holds the canister and asks questions of the vendor that I do not understand. She pays with her babysitting money.

I stand back and marvel at her maturity and her newfound passion.

She comes home with her wares and goes right to work. It’s quite a process, and she takes it very seriously. She makes a large pitcher and offers me a glass. My daughter knows I am trying to stop drinking diet soda once and for all. So whenever she makes a new flavor, she says, “I think you’ll like this one, Mama.”

She holds out that glass of deep orange liquid as if handing me a sunset made with her very own two hands.

I didn’t know why I felt like crying happy tears at such an offering until my friend shared something about her own life experience.
[Read more…]

If Life Could Begin Again, It Might Begin Like This

Popsicles #HFMJust living is not enough … one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.
-Hans Christian Andersen

Last week I shared my hopes and intentions for our children to have an All-Senses Summer. Yet something quite unexpected happened when I described the smells, tastes, and feelings I associated with my childhood summers—it inspired you to share yours. Like me, you have your own summer memories that conjure up feelings of joy … freedom … creativity … relaxation … comfort … and contentment.

But things might be different now.

Adult Summer may not produce such positive feelings.

For many, Adult Summer has its own challenges, bringing forth feelings of worry … guilt … comparison … impatience … frustration … and stress.

I have to work. I wish I had more time to play with my family.
I desperately need a moment of peace. I cannot breathe.
I am embarrassed to wear my bathing suit. I wish my insecurities didn’t hold me back.
We can’t afford a vacation right now. How will this be a memorable summer?
Will my kids regress over the summer? We cannot afford to lose what we gained.

As adults, it’s not like our responsibilities disappear in the summer. It’s not like we are suddenly free to do whatever we please. It’s not like we are released from the stresses and burdens of our everyday lives. But Summer. We are talking about Summer. If we cannot find new freedoms, forgotten smiles, and more breathing room in summer, when can we find them? [Read more…]

Turning a Moment of Shame Into an Anthem for Life

sidewalk 1“It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart,
But the welcome I receive at the restart.” -Mumford & Sons

* Dedicated to a beautiful gypsy warrior named Beth

I put my earphones in. I pushed ‘play’ on my new favorite band that recently opened for Mat Kearney. I set out to walk toward a little clarity, but it arrived much sooner than expected. Something that had been weighing on my heart all day suddenly became so clear. It was an answer to a question that had become my hourly prayer. With tear-filled eyes, I began typing a text message as fast as my little pointer finger could type.

A man walking his dog approached me from the other direction. I smiled warmly at them and said, “Good evening.” That’s when the man said, “Are you going to look at your phone the whole time you walk?”

All at once, shame washed over me. I was brought back to a painful time in my life when my phone was an extremity … when the ding of electronic notifications pulled me away from loving eyes and tender arms … when I took dangerous risks at stoplights and justified them with flimsy excuses. All at once, I felt like that distracted, overwhelmed woman who once came painfully close to losing everything that mattered most.

I almost kept walking. I almost lowered my face in shame. I almost berated myself. But I am not that person anymore.

And there was something that needed to be said, so I stopped walking.

[Read more…]

The One Question That Can Also Be an Answer

how can i helpLast summer was a difficult period for me. We’d just moved to a new state and left behind friends who were like family. The deadline to submit the first draft of my second book was looming, and I found myself unable to write. During this time of uncertainty and upheaval, my sister Rebecca came to visit. I wanted to be the fun, adventurous host and show her our new city. I planned things for us to do, but when it came down to it, I simply could not hide my despair. One morning, when misplaced fishing nets from the Dollar Store nearly caused a breakdown, Rebecca gently touched my arm. “How can I help?”

My sister was not talking about the fishing nets.

I felt my eyes instantly well with tears, and then I let out a mammoth-sized exhale. Sweet, sweet relief. My sister saw my pain … she saw I was going through something … she wanted to ease my burden. All this—and I never had to say a word. She just knew.

Furthermore, there was something about that question that kept defensiveness, excuses, and the need to explain out of the conversation. How can I help? It was much less intrusive than, “What’s wrong?” It was much more supportive than, “What’s your problem?” With one single question, my sister acknowledged my struggle and offered to lighten my load. All this—and I never had to say a word. It was the kind of help I most needed in that moment.

Rebecca proceeded to throw out specific ways she could help. I did not take her up on the kind offers at that moment, but knowing I had options made me feel more hopeful about my current situation.

From that experience, my list of Soul-Building Words—words that lift … help … and heal—grew by one. Little did I know how that question—how can I help?—would become an answer for my child this spring. [Read more…]

The One Thing We All Want to Know

all want to know 1“I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I myself become the wounded person.”

- Walt Whitman

I recently attended an informational meeting for fifth grade parents at the middle school my daughter will be attending this fall. After swallowing the lump in my throat caused by the undeniable reality of why I was sitting there, I settled in to absorb everything the staff had to offer about parenting a middle schooler. But within the first five minutes of the presentation, I got stuck. It was something the assistant principal said.

“You might think opening their locker or having seven teachers is the greatest worry for sixth graders on that first day of school—but it’s not. In general, their biggest source of angst is knowing how they’re getting home.”

The administrator proceeded to explain where bus routes could be accessed during the summer months, but I was only half listening. All I could think about was this:

They just want to know how they’re getting home.

My mind returned to one particularly trying day in my own middle school career. I’d forgone the city bus and made a long walk home, crying all the way. I’d gotten my first C, and I was devastated. When I got to the door, my grandma opened it. I’d forgotten she was spending the week with us. I quickly wiped my snotty face and forced a smile, but Grandma couldn’t be fooled.

“Rachel, what’s wrong?” she exclaimed. Despite the prominent wrinkles on my grandma’s heart-shaped face, I saw worry lines appear between her eyes.

“I got a C on my math test, Grandma,” I confessed between sobs.

Grandma immediately pulled me to her chest. Her shaky hands smoothed my hair lovingly. And then she said the words I needed to hear. “Rachel, no one is going to be mad at you. Your mama and daddy love you, no matter what.” And then she looked directly into my red, puffy face and said, “I love you.”

They just want to know how they’re getting home, the school administrator had said.

And I would add:

They just want to know there will be a welcoming smile and two open arms waiting for them, no matter what they’ve done, no matter what kind of day they’ve had.

[Read more…]

The Kind of Mothering We All Need

“To Mother, to me, means to nurture. To heal, to help grow, to give. And so anyone and everyone who is involved in the healing of the world is a Mother.  Anyone who tends to a child, or friend, or stranger, or animal or garden is a Mother. Anyone who tends to Life is a Mother.” –Glennon Doyle Melton photo by the talented Amy Paulson

“To Mother, to me, means to nurture. To heal, to help grow, to give. And so anyone and everyone who is involved in the healing of the world is a Mother.  Anyone who tends to a child, or friend, or stranger, or animal or garden is a Mother. Anyone who tends to Life is a Mother.” –Glennon Doyle Melton
photo of Rachel & Glennon by the talented Amy Paulson


*name has been changed to protect privacy

I recently went outside my comfort zone and made a ninety-minute drive in unfamiliar territory to hear one of my favorite authors speak. My hesitations about leaving the comfort of my home on a Friday night at rush hour in the pouring down rain all were abruptly silenced by three words, “I need this.”

You see, my friend Glennon writes words that offer me refuge. With hope spreading like my grandma’s arms, I feel understood and unalone in her space. I knew that hearing her speak her truths would be like an I.V. of pure goodness flowing straight into my blood stream.

Sure enough, the experiences and revelations Glennon shared from a comfy couch, shoes tossed to the side, made me laugh out loud, clap enthusiastically, and cry unashamedly. But when Glennon was asked what advice she’d give people trying to be the best parent, person, or human being they could be, I became completely still. Glennon said, “Find something that fills you up and then do it.” During a painfully low point in her life Glennon followed an intense urge to sit at the edge of the ocean for hours and hours. She realized that sound, that smell, and that feeling was vital to her ability to thrive. She knew that she needed to sit by the water’s edge once a week and so that is what she did … that is what she does. “Find beauty that is just for you … find beauty that will fill you up,” she encouraged.

Much to my dismay, the program came to an end. I began heading for the exit when someone tapped me on my shoulder. “Excuse me, but my friend loves your blog and was wondering if she could talk to you.”

[Read more…]

A Moment Longer Than Necessary

“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” ~ William Arthur Ward


While growing up, I periodically told my sister something I never told anyone else. 

“I think I’m going to die young,” I’d tell her matter-of-factly long before the popular song made such a dismal fate sound glamorous.

“Don’t say that, Rachel!” she protested the first time I said it. But after that initial disclosure, my sister seemed to get used to me saying it, especially around my birthday each year. By my twenties, my sister’s reaction to my depressing prediction was always compassionate and often inquisitive.

“Why? Why do you think that, Rachel?” she asked me as we drove to the mall on a bitter cold January day to shop for my 22nd birthday gift.

I didn’t know why. All I knew is that I could envision my demise like an intense movie trailer. In my 30-second preview, I could see I was around 33 or 34 years old and it happened on an Interstate.

Much to my dismay, my husband and I moved from Indiana’s slow country roads to Florida’s six-lane super highways right before I turned thirty. Naturally, that time in my life held a subtle sense of foreboding. To add to my worries, it was necessary to travel on I-75 to get to many places I needed to go.

I’d driven on plenty of Interstates in the Midwest, but this particular thoroughfare was different. It was faster. It was bumper-to-bumper. There was no shortage of intimidating eighteen-wheelers barreling past. And no matter what time of day it was, I could always count on seeing numerous roadside accidents. By age thirty-two, I had a precious baby in the backseat of the car as I drove that 12-mile stretch. I remember my hands becoming so sweaty that I could barely grip the steering wheel. I remember praying the entire way, hoping that particular trip would not be my last.

But here is where the goodness came in …

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Knowing Where Your People Are

where your people are #HFM

“But I’ll kneel down,
Wait for now
And I’ll kneel down,
Know my ground
And I will wait, I will wait for you.”
–Mumford & Sons

At the beginning of any school year, there are always quite a few student information sheets to fill out. But when I came to the pink sheet in my second grader’s folder, I was forced to pause.

What are your child’s fears? What calms your child when upset?

As my pen sat suspended above the blank lines, I let my mind wander into dark territories. What situations would upset my child at school? I knew. Intruders and tornadoes. Thankfully she’d only experienced one of them first-hand, and the tornado did not have a direct hit. But it was close enough to forever alter her perception of storms and the fragility of life.

Thankfully, I knew exactly what would bring comfort to my child if either of these situations arose. She would want to know where her sister was in the building. She would want to know that I was coming for her just as soon as I possibly could.

In other words: tell her where her people are.

[Read more…]