Live More, Love More Thanksgiving Recipe

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For every exasperated breath, let there be two minutes of uncontrollable laughter.

For every impatient “hurry up,” let there be one leisurely “take your time.”

For every worry about the condition of your home, let there be a friend who reminds you that your décor is not why you are loved.

For every grudge you’ve been holding, let there be one act of forgiveness.

act of forgiveness HFM

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For every complaint, let there be gratitude for two blessings.

For every minute spent holding an electronic device, let there be ten minutes holding a deck of cards, a musical instrument, or someone else’s hand.

For every duty checked off the list, let there be a spontaneous dance party in the kitchen or a snowball fight in the backyard.

For every new item brought into the home, let there be one offering of time, talent, money, or gently used item to a heart in need.

giving away HFM

For every irritated thought towards a rude driver, let there be one smile offered to a stranger.

For every family squabble, let there be a group hug.

For every accidental spill, let there be an extra serving of grace.

For every moment spent ridiculing your body, let there be one praise for arms that carry the weight, no matter how heavy.

heart inside you HFM

For every moment you give the gift of yourself to the ones you love, let there be a memory that lasts beyond your lifetime.

With open hands, open eyes, and an open heart, this holiday can be different than in year’s past.

Because now you know this day doesn’t have to be perfect—not even close.

This day is not about basting the perfect turkey … or getting the flawless family photo … or polishing the floors until they shine. This day is about gathering together with our messy, flawed human hearts in an effort to make happy memories that will outlive us all.

open hands, open eyes

Whether you follow this recipe to a T or simply pick and choose the ingredients that work for you, there will be a noticeable difference.

For the first time in a long time, you will lay your head on the pillow at night and you will not replay that family spat … you will not wonder what you could have done to improve the cranberry sauce … your feet will not be throbbing because you never sat down.

Oh no, this time it will be different.

Because now you know you must let go of what doesn’t matter in order to grasp what does matter.

hug HFM

For the first time in a long time, you will lay your head on the pillow and say, “Today I tasted the sweetest part of life.”

And that messy, flawed heart beating inside you will feel peacefully and imperfectly full.

In order to grasp what matters most, we must let go of what doesn’t. Thank goodness, it’s never too late to try this life-changing recipe to taste the sweetest part of life.

last pic HFM

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My friends, holidays can be stressful. And for some of you, this particular holiday season is especially hard. Someone is missing. Circumstances have changed. Stress is high. But goodness is still here. As long as you are still breathing, goodness is still here. Using this recipe will increase your chances of experiencing these moments of goodness. Feel free to modify the recipe according to your circumstances. Even small efforts to show up “as is” and love “as is” can make a noticeable difference. Please share your stories, struggles, and plans to let go and live this holiday. Every time you comment, someone else feels a little less alone.

My friends, I am thankful for you. Words cannot express how grateful I am for your companionship on this journey … for loving me “as is”… and for encouraging my writer’s heart with your loving affirmations. May the sweetest aspect of life—to love and be loved—be experienced by you and your family this holiday season.

*The blog and The Hands Free Revolution page will be quiet for the remainder of the week as I spend time investing in what matters most. While I am away, be sure and check out Rebecca Eanes’ enlightening and supportive page, Positive Parenting: Toddlers and Beyond. Rebecca is celebrating “a quarter of a million strong” community by having four days of giveaways of positive parenting books and resources. Included in the celebration are a Hands Free leather bracelet and a copy of my New York Times Bestseller, Hands Free Mama. I am grateful for Rebecca and the important work she does to help parents connect to their children! 

 

To Love Yourself “As Is”

to love yourself 4

To Love Yourself “As Is” (Part 1)

“Be kind to others,” they told her.

“Be kind to yourself.” She didn’t hear much of that.

Maybe they assumed she just would be. But despite the radiant smile on her face, the voice in her head said, “Not good enough.”

It wasn’t enough.
It was never enough.

For years she tried to reach perfection’s highest rung, but she missed again and again and again.

And then she had little ones of her own. At first their messiness and mistakes reminded her of her own imperfections. She found herself losing it over trivial mishaps and typical kid issues. But living in the shadow of fear and inadequacy was not the life she wanted for her children. She made every effort to see beyond their mess and mayhem. And in her children’s disarray, their humanness, and in their silly little quirks, she saw something worthy of love and forgiveness. She offered them love without condition and restraint, and when she did, their little faces glowed with validation and acceptance.

To love someone “as is” was a gift, she realized.

So whenever her children messed up she’d say, “Be kind to yourself. Everyone makes mistakes.”

As the children grew, they started saying it to themselves and to each other. And one day, when she burned the bottom of the crockpot, the littlest one said it to her. “Everybody makes mistakes, Mama. Be nice to yourself.”

She wished someone had said it when she was young. But it wasn’t too late. Thirty-eight years of being unkind to herself was enough. It was quite enough.

[Read more…]

Hope for the Imperfect Parent

This story is for those who feel imperfect, even broken at times, in their role as caregiver in a child’s life. There is hope, my friend. There is hope.

 A few months ago, I received an email message from a reader of my blog. It immediately got my attention due to the fact it was from a “Hands Free” dad, and it contained 3,385 words. A stranger named Brian was handing me a sacred story, a monumental piece of his life, to do whatever I was moved to do with it.

I will be honest; it was a lot to take in. And I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do with it. I couldn’t promise Brian I would use his story, but I could promise that I would take time to think about and process it. I knew that if his story was meant to be shared in this space I call “Hands Free Mama,” I would not be able to stop the words—because that is just how things work on this journey.

So I went on about living.  And about a month ago, my youngest child started a new line of questioning. Here is a sample:

[Read more…]

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.

Holding Imperfection

This week my posts have focused on living in realness. I have described how the act of acknowledging and expressing my true feelings has been a critical part of my journey to grasp what really matters in life.

Today I share an experience that describes the inner peace and wholeness that can only come from embracing our scars and accepting our imperfections. And furthermore, that our mistakes of the past should not prevent us from living the way we want and deserve to live in the present.

It is never too late to make changes.

You are never too far gone to come back.

You are never too tarnished to be made new.

You are never too broken to be made whole.

It is never too late to start over.

And on this particular day, Easter Sunday, it seems like a fitting day to speak of miracles and new life.

May you find significance and hope in the words to follow…

I recently was blessed to meet a captivating woman and artist. A few weeks ago, I visited her home to select a piece of her extraordinary artwork.

While there, she candidly shared her own story. She has graciously given me permission to share it with you today.

Several years ago, Catherine Partain hit rock bottom. Emotionally, spiritually, financially and mentally depleted, she was merely a shell of her former self. During that desolate time in her life, she felt an unmistakable calling to make crosses.

And so she did. And it became her life mission to make crosses unlike any other.

Catherine’s crosses are original works of art; each one possessing intricate detail and design that tells a compelling story that speaks to the soul. When held in the hands of the destined owner, the cross unexplainably calms hurts, doubts, and worries deep inside the heart. And through this calming peace, a clear vision of a brighter future is experienced; hope is found.

You would think an object that holds such tremendous presence would be made of polished silver, priceless gold, or perhaps smooth, unblemished wood.

That is not the case.

Catherine’s crosses are made from that which is jagged, ruined, tarnished and otherwise useless.

Catherine’s crosses are made from what most people would describe as waste, trash, unwanted and undesirable material.

Catherine’s crosses are made from scrap metal.

Catherine’s reason for using scrap metal to create the crosses is explained so eloquently in a recent article written by Naomi Jo’el Glover:

“When asked why she uses only scrap, Partain is quick to say, ‘Because I was that scrap.’ For Partain, the scrap represents the human soul, particularly her own—dirty and unclean and then redeemed through the cross. ‘Before this redemptive journey I had done everything wrong but realized I could be forgiven and made new,’ Partain says. ‘Now, the ugliest pieces I find are my favorites. I will reach down under the grime to get those burned, twisted pieces that you would at first think to pass over.’

It’s never too late to start over.

During my recent visit to Catherine’s home, I walked back and forth perusing the crosses that majestically lined walls of her entryway.  As if my feet were being lead, I kept coming back and standing beneath this one. I was drawn to it. In my head one of my favorite Hands Free terms came to mind, “Perfect Imperfection.”

I looked at this cross that was so far from perfect in its material and in its form. Yet, it was the most beautiful cross I had ever seen. I could see every scar, every blemish, as well as the rough, tarnished edge. I could see beautiful realness.

I felt compelled to hold it against my chest and weep. Instead, I took the substantial, yet exquisite, cross off the wall and simply held it in my hands. It felt like home.

I looked at it in wonder and amazement knowing this immense symbol was once scrap, discard, waste. And now, because of its imperfections, it had become something tremendously meaningful and valuable.

It’s never too late to start over.

I remember the day I painfully admitted that my life had become that of a movie played in fast forward. I realized I was literally watching my life go by, not playing an active role in any of the parts that matter; I call those parts, “Sunset Moments.” I was missing my Sunset Moments one by one, never to be retrieved again.

On that painful day I got “real” with myself was the day I crumbled; it was the day I succumbed. My life as I knew it became a discarded piece of scrap that by the grace of God would be made new.

With the words, “I won’t live another day this way,” my new life began.

When I hold this heavy Cross of Imperfection in my hands, my heart feels light. If discarded trash can be made into a divine symbol of grace, love, forgiveness and redemption, then there is hope for me; there is hope for you.

And on this blessed Easter Sunday, may the thought of miracles and new life fill your heart with possibilities that only come when you allow yourself to live imperfectly, yet oh so beautifully, in realness.

*For information on obtaining one of Catherine’s extraordinary crosses, please go to her website: http://crossesbycatherine.com

Embrace The Reminder

A few weeks ago, the flu hit our home hard.  Instead of simply wreaking havoc for a few days and then moving on, this mega-virus hovered. It would tease us by appearing to be find its way to the door, then only to turn around, prop up its feet and announce, “I’ve decided to stay awhile!”

After ten days of being “home bound” with one or both of my ill daughters and experiencing excessive sleep deprivation, I was exhausted. I was grouchy and irritable. I longed for just two peaceful minutes alone. I dreamed of the days when something other than a sleeve of Saltine crackers sounded good for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Let’s just say, to even think about being Hands Free at that time was just about enough to put me over the edge.

But through this journey, I have learned the times I most resist going Hands Free are the times I most need to go Hands Free.

And sometimes I need to be reminded of that.

Part of this Hands Free journey is being “open” to the reminders and then to embrace the reminders with open arms (even when all you really feel like doing is crossing your arms stubbornly against your chest).

I felt like crossing my arms against my chest, but instead I embraced the reminder.

This is my story…

On day ten of the miserable homebound period, a dear neighbor kindly dropped off my oldest daughter’s missed schoolwork. Although I was in the worst mood, and the mere sight of that blasted red take-home folder brought expletives to my head, I managed to smile and thank her.

Before she turned to leave, I desperately needed to let someone know how I was truly feeling.

I peered out the door, but I was very careful not to get my germy breath and unkempt self too close to my neighbor’s personal space. Through clenched teeth I confided, “I have not been out of the house in ten days. I am about to lose it.”

I didn’t expect her to have an answer. But she did.

My sweet Southern friend said, “Why don’t y’all go feed the ducks?”

Go feed the ducks? That was not what I had in mind.

I was thinking more along the lines of going into seclusion for a few days.

Then she even offered to give me the bread to feed the ducks.

Either she is just truly kind and generous (which she is), or I really did look like I was about to lose it.

Why don’t y’all go feed the ducks? And I even have bread you can use. It’s so fun. The girls will love it.

She made it hard to say no, but it sounded like A LOT of effort. And all I really wanted to do was go in my bedroom and put a pillow over my head…or perhaps be productive and begin reducing the size of the enormous mound of dirty laundry that had accumulated in the last ten days.

I wanted to keep those arms tightly crossed against my chest. I did not feel like being Hands Free right now.

But instead, my inner Hands Free voice (which tends to interject some pretty unconventional thoughts at some of the most inconvenient times) said this: “Embrace the reminder.”

So I did.

“Girls!” I called. “Do you want to go feed the ducks?”

They looked at me strangely. Was it because they didn’t know we had ducks in our vicinity? Or was it because Mom would surely not leave the house looking like, well, like she had been home sick in the company of sick children for ten days.

“Miss Susie said it is really fun,” I added. I couldn’t believe now I was the one doing the convincing.

They looked at each other excitedly and then back to me. Smiling they said, “YES!”

And then the “Hands Free Rachel” that often ticks off “Control-freak Type A Rachel” did something quite unusual.  I told them to simply, “Go get dressed in anything you want,” the way their laid-back Daddy does.

They intelligently opened the front door to briefly assess today’s weather.

Discovering it was around 55 degrees and overcast, one put on shorts, a tank top, and flip flops. The other one wore a sweatshirt, a jean skirt and knee high boots. Go figure.

Both had perfected the “messy” up-do, but not in a good way.

Me? Let’s just say I fit in well with their hodgepodge of mismatched style and seasonal variety. Then I used my trusty standby…the good old hat, and we were out the door.

As we rode to the pond, the anticipatory smiles on the two faces of my pale children began to ease my grumpiness.

But it wasn’t until we arrived at the pond and began tossing the crumbs that my “funk” was completely lifted.

Maybe it was the smell of the fresh spring air in my tight and oppressed lungs…

Maybe it was the way my four-year-old referred to the two large geese as “Mama Duck” and “Daddy Duck” and the regular sized ducks as “Baby Ducks”…

Or perhaps it was the hypnotic ripples in the clear water as the ducks glided forth…

Maybe it was how the bird song snippets coming from the trees silenced my negative thoughts and replaced them with praises of gratitude…

Or perhaps it was the fact that we were throwing whole-wheat waffles (or as my four-year-old refers to them, “The yucky brown kind”) and graham crackers, yet the ducks seem to really enjoy this unusual fare.

Maybe it was all those things.

But in a matter of minutes, I felt renewed. The frustrations and exhaustion of the past ten days were lifted. The light that had been missing from my darkened spirit was found again.

And all it took was a reminder.

I was reminded that Mother Nature holds healing powers.

I was reminded that fresh air removes the heaviness in one’s heart.

I was reminded that joy on children’s faces is a glorious sight for tired eyes.

I was reminded that tranquility found by the water’s edge creates a blanket of calm around tense shoulders.

I was reminded that refuge from the storm can come in the form of feathers and crumbs.

I was reminded beauty is multiplied in the glow of natural light…even hair that has not been brushed for days.

I was so powerfully reminded of this essential truth: It is in the times that I least want to go Hands Free that I most need to go Hands Free.

And from now on, instead of crossing my arms, I will try to remember to open them wide.

Where do you go to lift your spirits when you are down? What places do you visit serve as reminders of what’s important? What people in your life replenish your depleted energy supply? Go to those places. Be with those people. Uncross your arms; open them wide. Grasp the reminder and renew your soul. Do it today.

The Beauty Inside The Fold

Before I became Hands Free I loathed folding clean laundry. The unsightly mile-high heap created a persistent bother (similar to a wart) whenever I caught sight of it passing by the laundry room. Eventually, I couldn’t stand the eyesore any longer and would force myself to fold it, which typically meant putting off playing or interacting with my daughters while doing so.

“Not right now, sweetie, I have to fold laundry.”

I hated the words as they came out of my mouth. I don’t even want to guess how many times I said them.

But now things are different.

Don’t get me wrong, a laundry fairy did not magically appear. We still have dirty clothes that transform into a heaping pile of “Downy fresh” mess.

But I don’t loathe the thought of folding clothes anymore because the way I fold clothes is different now.

I stopped worrying about how quickly I could get it done once I started.

I stopped worrying if the folds would be “just right.”

I stopped worrying if the proper items would go in their designated piles.

I stopped focusing on the end result and instead focused on the process.

You see, now I have a helper. My four-year-old daughter actually gets excited when I come out of the laundry room and all she can see are my legs beneath a mountain of clean towels barely contained in a way too small laundry basket.

The first time I folded laundry with my daughter, my patience was sorely tested. It required breathing techniques that I didn’t know I could perform.

I let her start out by folding washrags. I carefully showed her how to position the square-shaped material and bring the corners to meet. Once in a little square, I demonstrated how to place it neatly in the official “wash rag stack” next to the towels.

Then with high hopes I said, “OK, it’s your turn.”

My four-year-old made a nice little round ball out of her washrag. She disregarded my organized stacks and made her own haphazard piles of washrags about the room and under the couch. She wrapped her Barbie dolls in them. She laid them on the floor and skated on them. She became sidetracked and many towels were left unfolded.

But we laughed.  And I had never laughed while folding laundry before.

So we folded laundry together again. And again. And again. And again.

I am grateful she did not give up on me.

Over time, she began folding washrags so beautifully that she graduated to regular sized towels. Her corners lined up. Her piles resembled stacks. She even raced to the kitchen to place them in the proper drawer.

Now she can even fold her daddy’s workout t-shirts while giving an on-going commentary: “Why does Daddy need two red t-shirts? Oh, wait a minute, this one isn’t red; it is orange. Daddy has an orange work out shirt and a red one. I like the red one best. Which one do you like best, Mama?”

But my favorite part of Folding Time is when she unexpectedly busts out in song and dance. Generally, this occurs when she delightfully pulls a pair of boxer shorts from the basket.

She stands up and holds them against her hips and declares, “Time to do the Chicka Wa-Wa Dance!” Then she stands up and sings a made-up song (that actually has a catchy tune) about clean underwear.

As I sit in awe of her neat stacks and entertaining musical routines, I can’t help but envision when my four-year-old is twenty-four and she is folding laundry.

I can imagine her smiling to herself as she recalls our beloved Folding Time.  Maybe it will be the whiff of familiar laundry detergent or a pink washrag that triggers a cherished memory of her and I sitting side by side among our sturdy stacks, shared conversation, and laughter…lots and lots of laughter.

I almost missed out on this special bonding time because I wanted it done now and I wanted it done quickly.

I was this close to missing out on what really matters because letting my child fold laundry would  “take too long.”

And to think I almost missed out on making this beautiful memory because of being solely focused on the end result.

Folding laundry with my daughter. Who would have thought something so simple could make such an impact?

The beauty inside the fold is what I would have missed.

Just the thought of living my entire life without ever seeing her do the “Chicka Wa-Wa Underwear Dance” is enough to make me weep.

But thank God, I don’t have to….because things have changed, and I am just getting started.

Do you have any household tasks that you do with your child or teenager? If so, please leave a comment or email me using the “contact me” button. And if you don’t, there is always today. Instead of grumbling in misery while you cook dinner, clean the house, or shovel snow, why not grab a little friend and make a memory.

It Only Takes One

A month ago my daughter tried to grow her own Christmas tree. Today I came out to discover this tiny white flower that somehow grew in the harshest of elements. It only takes one.

*Name has been changed to protect privacy

Last week I received an email message from a man living on the East Coast. It was the type of message that one has to read several times to grasp the full capacity of the words.

I felt the hairs on my arms stand on end at one point in the letter. But it wasn’t until a teardrop fell upon my hand that I realized these words were not simply meant for my eyes.

The author of this poignant email message graciously allowed me to write about his story.

I considered many angles on this particular post because there are many, many lessons to be learned from it. I typically have a clear message in mind before I begin writing each narrative. Most days, I have a Hands Free photo uploaded that I gaze at for inspiration. Usually I know exactly what I will be challenging my readers to think about.  But today’s post is not like any other because today’s story is extraordinary.

Today, I have decided to go Hands Free. I am just simply going to write. For if there is anything I have learned through this journey, it is this: The most beautiful, life changing messages happen when you simply let them.

So let them…

Paul* was working on Wall Street on September 11, 2001. He evacuated his building in time to tragically witness the second plane hit the South Tower.

Although he was told to walk along the East-West Highway towards Midtown, he began running with a colleague. Through the chaotic screams and cries of survival, Paul felt compelled to glance back at the South Tower. He watched in disbelief and agony as hundreds of people jumped from windows.

After about ten minutes of running, he and his colleague saw a woman in her late sixties in tears and too tired to move. They each took one of her hands and assisted her as they walked about thirty blocks.

Paul and his colleague ended up staying in Penn Station for two nights with the woman they helped. They learned her name was Margaret and she was an executive assistant for a company in New Jersey. She just happened to be in the area on 9/11 because it was her day off and she was visiting friends.

Margaret ended up inviting Paul and his colleague to her home in New Jersey until Paul could finally call a cab and get back to his apartment.

After several months of upheaval and disruption, Paul’s life resumed.

So where is Paul now? Well, Paul is working as a highly successful investment banker in New York City. Yet, with the success comes a price.

Paul is expected to work six days a week, typically until nine o’clock at night.

His boss typically sends him a ridiculous number of email messages in a weekend and expects them to be answered. Paul has been told that his department needs to bring in $200 million dollars by March. This means Paul is to “crack the whip” on the people he manages. It is not uncommon for employees to not only miss family birthday celebrations, but even graduations and funerals.

Paul does not complain. He is grateful he has a job. He knew this is what he signed up to do. Although at times he feels like he can barely breathe, he accepts that this is the environment in which he lives and works.

But what Paul does not know is that he has found a way to bring light into darkness. He has found a way to bring air into a suffocating space. He has found a way to pick up those in despair and carry them, carry them to safety; the way he reached down and saved Margaret from an early death.

How? Read on. And read carefully…

Paul sent an email last week to his staff of forty people. He asked them to provide the dates of birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and any other special occasions that will occur in their families between now and June.

Paul cannot defy his boss by allowing his employees to work less than six days a week, but he can ensure that a particular individual does not work past four o’clock p.m. on the days of special family events.

In addition, his department is going to send flowers and/or chocolate to the family.

Paul’s email message had one last detail. On the upcoming Monday, he would be attending the funeral of a very special woman he met on 9/11. Her name was Margaret.

I wish I could have seen the faces of the people reading his email that day.

I wish I could see the face of the young man whose dad shows up to his high school graduation after having missed so many other momentous events.

I wish I could see the face of the woman when her husband comes through the door carrying flowers and says, “Happy Anniversary. I don’t want you to ever spend another one alone.”

I wish I could see the face of the young lady when her mom comes home early to help her dress for the prom.

I wish I could see the little boy’s face when his daddy surprises him for his birthday and says with tears in his eyes, “I am sorry I missed your last birthday, but I am here now, buddy. I am here now.”

I wish I could see the faces of Margaret’s family when the man who carried their precious beloved through the carnage and chaos of 9/11 walks through the door of the funeral home.

I will not see those faces, but I have a feeling I know what that moment will look like.

It will look like a single beam of sun that somehow manages to shine through the darkest blanket of menacing clouds.

It will look like an exquisite sea barnacle clinging to a tattered piece of soiled driftwood.

It will look like a tiny purple flower that somehow managed to sprout through a crack in the cruel asphalt.

It will look like one chance, one possibility, one miracle, one beautiful and unmistakable Sign of Hope.

You will often hear me say that I am simply a messenger on this Hands Free journey. It is by the grace of God and the grace of Paul that I have this message to give. The message that kept me awake night after night until it was written is this:

You may not work on Wall Street. You may not have an unscrupulous boss. You may not have had to run through the streets on 9/11, but every single one of us has a chance EACH and EVERY day to bring peace into the chaos and light into the darkness.

Every single one of us has a chance to put what really matters smack dab in the middle of the distraction that prevents us from truly living.

It only takes one light.

It only takes one hand.

It only takes one…

To Save A Life

It might even be your own.

As I mentioned before, today’s blog post kept me awake until it was written. It only needed one revision (I average five revisions per post). The initial word count was 1111. I am simply the messenger for something and someone far greater than myself.  Help me spread this message by clicking “share” on the button below. It only takes one. Let it start with you.