The Conversation I Almost Missed & the Future It Could’ve Cost

you make me feel like I belong under the sun -citizen cope

 “You make me feel like I belong under the sun.” –Citizen Cope

I was not expecting to experience such an emotional response when Dr. Shefali Tsabary shared her video about parent shaming with me. It was the following words, found two minutes and twenty seconds into the video, that brought me to tears:

“I came to you so you could honor my soul, nurture my worth, and preserve my spirit. Yet it is you who annihilates my very essence in the name of parenting, in the name of love, in the name of teaching.”

Dr. Shefali then calls on parents to “become the person they are meant to be.” She describes it from a child’s perspective as:

The parent
The guardian
The usher of my soul

Not too long ago, I was good at shaming my children. It wasn’t obvious. It was subtle. Exasperated breaths. Eye rolls. Belittling. Inducing guilt. Acting like they should know better. But they were children. They were learning, and I seemed to forget that.

I thought it was my job to teach them a lesson.

But what I was teaching them was that I could never be satisfied. I was teaching them to confide in someone else—someone who would be more understanding and less reactive. I was teaching them to strive for perfection, no matter the cost.

Although I’d improved on seeing the positives rather than the negatives in people and situations, there was still work to do. It was an intentional change in my approach to life that revealed exactly where further improvement was needed and more importantly, why.

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A State Where You Can Thrive & Your People Can Breathe

detourWhen I was young, my family would take long car trips in the summertime. It was always a big deal when we’d cross state lines. Everyone in the car would look up from whatever they were doing to pass the time and celebrate our progress. Going from one territory to another was exciting, but there was nothing like crossing into my home state at the end of the trip. Knowing I’d be sleeping in my own bed made me feel giddy with delight. When my dad pulled the car into the garage, my foul mood suddenly lifted. The familiar smell of home filled my senses and made me forget how much my sister annoyed me the previous nine hours. I’d jump out of the car, eager to move my stiff ligaments and see my beloved orange cat.

Although I seldom take long car trips now, my Hands Free journey to live better and love more causes me to think about state lines every single day. These lines are not physical territories, but rather emotional boundary lines—and I’ve discovered they are critical for a peaceful, loving, joy-filled existence.

Let me explain …

With adult decisions, daily responsibilities, kid mishaps, constant pressures, and blatant distractions, it’s quite easy to cross over fragile state lines:

From a state of calm … to a state of impatience

From a state of caring … to a state of apathy

From a state of presence … to a state of distraction

From a state of hope … to a state of despair

From a state of joy … to a state of infuriation

You could have the best intentions in the world to be calm, present, and joyful and sometimes all it takes is just one incident to push you over the line. One sibling squabble … one added work assignment … one painful rejection … one burnt dinner … one dog-chewed retainer … or one call from the school and before you know it, you’ve crossed over into dangerous territory and find yourself in that place you never wanted to be (again).

I know. I remember.

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The Truth About Texting

You just never know what might be coming around the bend.

*The National Safety Council’s Statistics Department estimates 400 people will die in traffic accidents this Labor Day holiday period, which begins at 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 2, and will end at 11:59 p.m. Monday, Sept. 5. Together we can reduce that tragic number simply by reading and sharing this message.

I recently found myself frantically pulling off to the side of the road, steadying my trembling hands, and taking deep calming breaths until my heart regained normal pace.

Never had I felt so certain I was about to die than I had in the two terrifying minutes prior to pulling my car to safety.

On a winding country road, just behind my neighborhood, a young man driving an old Chevy El Camino suddenly appeared around the bend traveling at a dangerous speed.

For a brief, yet agonizing period of time, I watched him lose control of his car and veer directly into my lane head-on.

I saw every agonizing detail of his pale white face.

And just below his chin, atop his steering wheel, nestled comfortably between his two hands was his phone.

While my life flashed before me, all I could think was this: Oh how tragic; the woman who writes about the cost of distraction was killed by a man who was texting and driving.

By the grace of God, the driver regained control and served back into his lane as my vehicle kicked up rocks along the roadside until it slowed to a stop.

I could barely finish my prayer of gratitude, when I began spitting words of raging anger at this young man. He was now long gone, probably continuing to type with the same agile fingers and careless disregard for human life that he had before he came around the curve.

I am not a violent person; I do not welcome confrontation, but how I wanted to grab him by the front of his shirt and shake him viciously until he begged for mercy. How dare you! How dare you value a stupid text message over my life?

Those words sounded vaguely familiar. I had spoken them somewhere before.

Oh, that’s right. To Myself.

I believe in being real in this space I call Hands Free Mama. For it is through my sharing that others can speak similar truths in your own lives. And through these truths we can begin to truly grasp what matters.

The truth hurts, but the truth heals.

While drowning in my overcommitted, highly distracted life approximately two years ago, I never indulged in texting while driving. However, I did allow myself to check email at stoplights when I was driving alone.

I convinced myself that it wasn’t like texting at all; I assured myself I was 100% focused on driving when the light turned green.

What a joke.

One day, as I was reading an email at a stoplight, the car in the left lane hit the gas and entered the intersection. Because I was multi-tasking, I carelessly followed his lead and began pressing on the gas. Suddenly I realized the car next to me had the green left turn arrow; my light was still red.

In that moment, I realized what I was doing was stupid. I realized what I was doing was wreckless, irresponsible, and risky. I realized this “innocent” little habit of mine, that I thought wasn’t so bad, could cost my children their mother.

I reprimanded myself the way I would have liked to scream at the texting driver who almost killed me:

How can you even think that reading a trivial email is worth risking the presence of a mother in your daughters’ lives?

Can you imagine whoever would have to break this news to your husband and parents? “I’m sorry, but Rachel was checking email on her phone and accidently drove into the middle of an intersection while the light was red.”

Seriously? You are an educated woman. What the hell is wrong with you????

It was the wake up call I needed; and I only needed it once. Thank God, I grasped it before I lived (or died) to regret that senseless habit.

I think of that decision every time my daughters and I make our 20-minute trip three times a week to my oldest daughter’s swim practice.

With my phone turned completely off, conversation flows freely. The three of us cover topics from Halloween costumes to endangered animals … from school yard bullies to American Girl dolls … from what it means to go to jail to what it means to go to heaven.

I hear my children’s dreams, their fears, their laughter and yes, sometimes their fighting. I am privy to the stories and questions of their five and eight-year-old minds and hearts, stories I wouldn’t hear (and may not even occur) if I were tied to my phone.

You see, my friends, here’s the best news of all …

When you turn off the phone and begin to connect with what really matters, like the dreams in your own head, and the conversations of the people in the backseat, you don’t even miss your phone.

This coming from someone who, two years ago, held on to her phone like an added extremity. Now there are occasions when I accidently leave home without it because my phone is not what I am connected to anymore.

And if your personal safety doesn’t provide enough motivation to abstain from your phone while driving, consider the fact that your driving habits greatly affect the driving habits of your children.

The following excerpt is taken from an article in the Washington Post entitled, “U.S. teens report ‘frightening’ levels of texting while driving.

“At a conference that U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood convened to discuss distracted driving, he urged parents to set an example for their children by paying attention to the road.

But, the report says, ‘the frequency of teens reporting parent cellphone use behind the wheel in our focus groups was striking, and suggested, in many cases, that texting while driving is a family affair.’”

As I write today’s entry, I can’t help but think about the young mother who was texting while driving on the interstate with her ten-month-old baby in the car. Tragically, neither one survived the crash that resulted from a brief texting conversation. I cannot begin to imagine the pain their family is enduring.

Perhaps we can honor their memory by sharing today’s post with as many people as we know.

Perhaps someone will read this and decide to put the phone in the glove box while driving. And perhaps in that one simple action, this person will experience a conversation, a song, or an inner thought that will remind him or her just how beautiful … and how fragile … life truly is.

Maybe it will be someone you love.

Maybe it will even be you.


The National Safety Council’s Statistics Department has declared Labor Day weekend as one of the busiest and deadliest times on U.S. roadways. It has been estimated that 400 people will die in traffic accidents during this Labor Day holiday period.

Because nearly one in four crashes involve cell phone use, the National Safety Council suggests the following, if tempted to use a cell phone when driving:

  • Change your voicemail greeting to indicate you are driving and will call back when safely parked.
  • Put your phone in your trunk or glove box.
  • Turn your phone on “silent.”
  • If you need to contact someone, pull over to a safe location and put your vehicle in “Park” before dialing.

And with your phone out of reach, may I suggest:

  • Conversing with someone who is riding with you.
  • Playing music and singing your heart out.
  • Cherishing a moment of complete silence.
  • Whispering prayers of gratitude.
  • Dreaming a dream.
  • Making a wish.
  • Simply feeling alive.

Let Labor Day weekend be a turning point in your life; let it be the day you put the phone away while driving.

The most meaningful connection is not found in a phone. It is either along side you or within you; all you have to do is grasp it.

*I urge you to click the “share” button below and send this to as many people as you can. Perhaps you could be the reason someone lives to see Tuesday, Sept. 6th and all the days thereafter.

Words He Seldom Hears

This is how my daughter recently greeted her daddy after he had been away. This moment inspired the following message that is meant to be shared.

A critical part of living Hands Free to grasp what really matters is having awareness. I have realized I cannot fight the distraction that takes priority over my relationships if I do not allow myself to fully acknowledge my areas of negligence.

Typically, I write about my attempt to grasp what really matters in my role as “parent” or as simply as an individual. Rarely do I write from my perspective as “spouse.”

But today I am willing to go where I don’t normally go in order to bring awareness about a critical topic.

Yes, it could be considered a Father’s Day tribute, but I am challenging myself to make this an every day gift to my husband.

You see, this message is written FOR men, but it is equally important that women read it, too. Perhaps it is even more important for women to read it.

And by being open to the awareness this message brings, a greater connection to the one you love may be possible.

This is my message…

Today I am celebrating the “Good Guys” of the world.

And I am willing to acknowledge I don’t do it enough.

In fact, I am willing to admit I don’t express appreciation to the #1 Good Guy in my life, my husband, to the extent that I should or as often as I should.

But today, and in the days hereafter, I have the power to make a great man feel loved.

And so do you.

Don’t worry if words are not your thing; I’ve got you covered. All I ask is this: read the following message, allow a little “awareness” to seep in, and acknowledge the areas that could use some extra attention.

Because here’s the truth: Guys “Deserve a Day,” just as women do (see my popular Mother’s Day post for that message), yet guys often don’t get a day, let alone an hour, or even fifteen minutes. Many men do not hear words of kindness, love, or appreciation often enough from the people who love them.

Today can be different. And so can tomorrow.

Let it begin right here…

You Deserve A Day

You deserve a day void of criticism and blame,
A day when words of affection are attached to your name.

You deserve a day free from reminders of what you lack,
A day with the weight of the world lifted off your back.

You deserve a day when inner confidence never hides,
A day free from the pain of past sports and piggy back rides.

You deserve a day to be placed first instead of last,
A day to be embraced instead of quickly brushed past.

You deserve a day when you’re not racing against time,
A day when total relaxation isn’t considered a crime.

You deserve a day when it’s perfectly acceptable to cry,
A day to fondly reminisce the glory days gone by.

You deserve a day when someone else mans the barbeque,
A day without the words, “Honey, would you do…?”

You deserve a day when past mistakes are taken with the wind,
A day when the cuts on your heart have a chance to mend.

You deserve a day when you don’t live by numbers or lists,
A day when diets and high blood pressure cease to exist.

You deserve a day when you don’t have to be strong,
A day when someone else is the first to admit she’s wrong.

You deserve a day free from all your worries and fears,
A day when stress doesn’t take away your best years.

You belong in a tiki hut with scented oil on your back,
You belong in a racecar going 220 on an open track.

You belong on a lazy raft with a cold beer in hand,
You belong with a parachute and a soft place to land.

You belong in a convertible against a painted sky,
You belong near to a warm campfire as the savory fish fry.

You belong in a place of forgiveness and grace,
You belong with tender kisses on your face.

You belong with the freedom to be who you are,
You belong in the presence of a shooting star.

You deserve a day to be embraced without release,
A day of unconditional love that will never cease.


Guys, if you received this message:

Someone thinks you are fabulous.
Someone thinks you are amazing.
Someone’s appreciates all that you do.
Someone is grateful for your presence in the world.
Someone can’t imagine life without you.

“You Deserve A Day” simply because you are a good man and have made a difference in someone else’s life.

Ladies, this is for you:

If you appreciate something your guy does, tell him.
If you are grateful for something he adds to your life, show him.
If you haven’t treated him the way he should be treated, apologize to him.
If you love him, talk to him and listen to him.

Open the lines of loving communication! Start by sending this message with a word of thanks to your special guy or any guy you appreciate. He does not hear these words often enough.

*If you think this is a worthy message, please click the “share” button. My hope is that Father’s Day 2011 can be the start of heightened connection between people who love one another, but often don’t take the time to say it or show it.

Give the gift of yourself; there is nothing in the world he wants more.

If You Only Knew

The ability to know my children is in my hands.

*For the privacy of this individual, her name has been changed

In this journey to become Hands Free, I have really started listening. Not just listening more intently to my own inner thoughts and feelings, but listening to other people. I mean really listening.

A year ago, I am not sure I would have truly heard what this woman said. But with my Hands Free heart, I heard her words and they have been life changing. I share them with you now.

This is my story…

I recently found myself fully reclined in an oversized chair, draped in a crisp white sheet, amidst dimmed lighting and New Age relaxation music. I was about to receive a luxurious facial. It was a gift from a friend who recently had her fourth baby. She was convinced that she would not have made it through the trying last three months without my help and support, and this was her way of expressing gratitude.

As you know, I am a big fan of The Angel Impact. I was simply doing for her what others had done for me when I had a new baby. I was not expecting a lavish facial in return, but I was surely going to enjoy this generous gift.

Before the aesthetician came in, I crossed both my fingers and wished for one that did not have the gift of gab. It is not often that I have the opportunity to completely relax, let alone in a deluxe setting such as this one. The last thing I wanted to do was carry on a conversation.

A beautiful woman named Debbie* came in. After a brief introduction, she began rubbing the most delicious smelling substance on my face in gentle circular motions.

Ahhhh….at last…surreal, peaceful, relaxation.

“So Rachel, what is your occupation?”

Suddenly the small window of tranquility was closed abruptly.

I briefly considered giving her the quick, one word answer: “Mom,” or “Teacher,” or “Writer,” thereby indicating that getting to know one another was not one of my goals for this session.

But for some reason, I felt inclined to tell her about all three of my occupations. Then I explained how I was using my skills as a mom, teacher, and writer to author a book about making the most out of our time here on earth, particularly in respect to our children.

That is when Debbie said something that one year ago I would have missed. One year ago, I may have actually ignored her, simply acknowledging her words with a polite, “Uh huh.”

But things are different now. Thank God, things are different. And I listen because I have learned that you just never know when someone else has the words that you need to hear.

She said, “I just want to know my children, really know my children. That is all I want in my lifetime.”

At first it almost seemed like a silly, obvious notion to “know” my child, but after further thought, the critical concept of really knowing my child sent chills down my spine.

Because here’s the truth, the cold hard truth: the ability to really know our children is in jeopardy. Knowing our children has earned a spot on the In Danger of Extinction List.

Here is why…

In the jam packed, over-scheduled, constantly beeping, buzzing, media saturated, technology obsessed, stressed out, warp speed rat race that we call life, something is getting lost.

Personal connection is getting lost.

Human touch is getting lost.

Private conversation is getting lost.

While we are fully aware of what our children like to do, (insert mile long list of extracurricular activities here), do we really know who our children are as people?

And we, as adults, must take responsibility for the major part we play in the current deficiency in knowing, really knowing, our children.

A year ago, I was on the verge of not knowing my children (more on that in an upcoming post). Thank God, things are different now, but I still struggle. I still struggle to fight the distraction that invades my life and threatens to steal from me the only real connection that truly matters on this earth.

And to combat this struggle, I create reminders in the form of a list. I choose lists over long-winded paragraphs because they have a way of sticking with me, popping into my head at the precise moment I need them.

This list could serve as a “Hands Free Wake Up Call” or a “Hands Free Slap In the Face.” And I am not going to sit here and say that I don’t need it.

Because I do.

Every single day, I need to evaluate how I am using my precious time on this earth.

The following list helps me do just that.

This is the If You Know List, created with the help of my single, hip, and technologically savvy sister, Rebecca:

If you know exactly how many “likes” your latest Facebook status update has received in the past hour…

If you know the exact number of times your latest tweet has been retweeted…

If you know the number of TV shows your DVR exceeds the number of times you conversed with your child this week…

If you know the next 20 movies in your Netflix queue off the top of your head…

If you know the content on the TMZ blog so thoroughly that your friends regularly ask you for the latest celeb gossip…

If you know all there is to know about Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, Ping, Yelp, Foursquare and Meetup…

If you know where your Kindle is at all times of the day and night…

If you know the latest status updates of your 500 Facebook friends…

If you know how to text proficiently while in the dark, with your eyes closed, with an injured finger, under the influence of alcohol…

If you know all the Twitter names of Kayne’s followers…

If you know the latest ring tones available from Lady GaGa…

If you know there is seasonal wallpaper available for your Blackberry and change it accordingly…

If you know the personal ringtones for each of your 300+ iPhone contacts…

If you know the number of times each Hollywood Wife has been married and the names of the all the MTV Teen Moms’ babies…

If you know how to discreetly check email while in church, at a wedding, or at a school function…

If you know any and all sport scores with the help of ESPN, as well as MLB, NFL and NHL digital cable sports packages…

If you know the location of your multiple phones at all times, but occasionally lose track of your children…

If you know the dangers of texting while driving, but do it anyway…

If you know you should turn off your computer and spend time with your children, but you don’t…

If you know you really shouldn’t keep the phone on the table at dinner, but you do it anyway…

If you know you could return emails after your kids go to bed, but you choose to ignore them instead…

If you know you are wasting an opportunity to converse with your child while you talk on the phone and drive, but do it anyway…

If you know that you often choose interacting with people on a screen over the living breathing human sitting next to you…

If you know all these things,

If you know half these things,

If you know one of these things,

Then your chance to know, really know, your child is being sacrificed.

Your chance to know who your child is as a person is in jeopardy.

If you know any of these things, you know less about your child than you could know.

And so now that you know…what are you going to do about it?

That is the real question here. What are you going to do about it? Yes, some of the items on the list are over the top. Some of them are laughable. But let’s step into the light of realness, shall we? We all have things that distract us from truly knowing the people we love.

Because the fact of the matter is this: We live in a world inundated with distraction, and there is room for improvement in every single one of our lives. This might not be your list of distractions, but you have one, just as I have one. And when I admit the truth, I know exactly what takes my focus, my attention, and my presence off of the people I love.

The truth hurts, but the truth heals.

Only YOU know what is distracting you from the personal connection, human touch, intimate conversation that your loved ones so desperately need and want from you.

Only YOU have the power to know your child.

Or you can simply continue to choose to know a lot about “things” that won’t matter one damn bit when your last day on this earth arrives.


What distracts you from focusing on the people you love? Whether it’s external distraction or internal distraction, whether it’s technology, negative emotions, excessive spending, or self-absorption, the detrimental cost of your distraction is the same. Your loved ones are fully aware when you are not giving them 100% of yourself.

I challenge you to spend 20 minutes with your child or significant other TODAY with everything turned off, including technology, as well as wandering thoughts.

In 20 uninterrupted minutes, you can really get to know someone.

Please take a moment to give someone else the opportunity to grasp what really matters by sharing this critical message.

What I Really Think

In a moment of frustration, I envisioned flushing the receptionist's pink phone down the toliet. What must our children think of our phones?

Last week I was ready to check out of a medical office with my seven-year-old daughter. It was visit #4 in a series of medical appointments in a short time period. We both were drained physically, mentally, and emotionally. We just wanted to go home.

But I have been to the doctor’s office enough times to know that check out procedures never go as quickly as I hope.

I am accustomed to waiting while the receptionist takes appointments or checks out other patients.

But I have never had to wait while the receptionist sends a text message on her pink phone.

Until this day.

I cleared my voice to remind her we were standing there.

Still texting.

I rustled the papers in my hand to remind her we were standing there.

Still texting.

I resorted to the heavy sigh to remind her we were still standing there.

Now reading the text, then laughing to herself at the text.

My blood was boiling now. But did I say anything? No. I simply stewed in my own anger and resentment for being completely ignored and disrespected.

And what came to mind was a story of a two-year-old boy that one of my readers sent me recently:

Last week I was sitting in the floor playing trains with my two-year-old son. While he was setting up the track, I was on my Blackberry doing nothing important, just wasting time. He reached up, grabbed my phone, and in a very frustrated tone and said, “No, Mommy. Play with ME.”

As I stood watching the receptionist texting away, I felt just like that two-year-old boy. I wanted to grab that woman’s phone and say, “No, Lady. Pay attention to ME.”

In fact, I was to the point where I wanted to pick up that pink phone and slam it against the wall. I would have loved nothing more than to flush it down the toilet. I yearned to tell her how downright rude and inconsiderate she was being.

And then suddenly it hit me. I felt the cold hard truth wash over me like acid on my skin.

So how do you like it, Rachel? How do you like it when you are completely ignored and disrespected by someone doing something meaningless on a phone? There are times when your children could say the very same thing about you.

Particularly before I became Hands Free, but even now, on my not-so-good days, my children need me and do not have my full attention. Even now, there are times when they stand before me and I am distracted. Even now, I can be just as rude and inconsiderate to them as the lady with the pink phone.

The truth hurts, but the truth heals.

I did not say anything outwardly to the texting receptionist, but I sure had a lot to say on the inside.

And I bet children with parents strapped to their phones like oxygen tanks have something to say, too.

I imagine their inner dialogue may go something like this:

Why must you talk on the phone while you drive?  Don’t you want to talk to me?

Why must you keep your phone at the dinner table? Isn’t this supposed to be family time?

Why must you constantly check your phone? Don’t you know that every time you look, I lose you?

Why are the people on Facebook more important than me?

Don’t you know what vacation means?

Why must you risk my life and your own life by reading emails while driving?

Don’t you know that texting while driving is like driving with your eyes closed? Why would you do this? Why?

Have you forgotten how to say hello when I come in the room?

Have you forgotten how to say good-bye when I get out of the car?

Why did you come on my school trip when all you do is interact with your phone instead of me?

Why do I become invisible when the phone rings?

Why don’t you ask me a question once in awhile?

Why don’t you pay attention to me?

Am I that boring? Am I that uninteresting?

Don’t you know I feel forgotten?

Can’t you see that I am standing here waiting for you to acknowledge me?

Don’t you see what you are missing?

Don’t you see what you are missing?

And do you want to know what I REALLY think?

Here’s what I really think…

I want to smash your phone into a million pieces.

Because it has robbed me.

It has robbed me of conversation.

It has robbed me of connection.

It has robbed me of memories.

It has robbed me of your presence.

It has robbed me of your focus.

It has robbed me of your attention.

It has robbed me of your love.

Your phone has robbed me of you.

That’s what I really think.

And so now you know.

What are you going to do about it?


Last week I spoke of living in realness. I presented the notion that it is not too late to start over. Now is your chance. Whether your child is seven months old, seven years old, or seventeen years old, it’s not too late to consider the amount of time you spend on your phone and make long-term changes. Whether your phone usage is rarely, often, or compulsive, you still have a choice about when to use it.

One more thing…If you have ever been ignored by someone using a phone or if you have ever ignored someone because of your phone, click the “share” button below. Let’s spread this critical message. Together we change the inner dialogue of a child… maybe even today… maybe even a child you love.

A Major Turn Off

A few weeks ago my husband and I went to a concert at a relatively small venue. Our seats were on edge of the second floor, which overlooked the area in front of the stage. The concert had not yet begun. People were milling around as they waited. But instead of talking to the person that had accompanied them to the concert, they were doing something else.

My husband pointed to the view below, “Look down there. Look at what every other person is doing.”

In the hands of more people than we could count were the glowing screens of hand held communication devices.  And standing next to them was a person who might as well be invisible.

When did this happen? When did the people on a screen become more interesting, more engaging, more desirable to interact with than the living, breathing person standing next to us?

When did the need to check our communication device become a debilitating addiction, not being able to go five minutes without looking at it?

I am far from being as Hands Free as I want to be, but lately I have been doing some major soul searching about my own use of technology.  And more importantly, I’ve taken a long hard look at the cost of distraction on my life and on the lives of the people I love the most.

I feel this topic is so critical that I actually spent the whole week writing about it. (See “You Caught My Eye,” “Eyes Unseen Words Unheard,” and “This May Hurt A Little,” for the series on eye contact.)

This is the first time since I started this blog that I stuck to one particular Hands Free topic for the entire week. It appears that lingering on this topic allowed us to dig deeper. It allowed us time to process the information and begin to implement some changes. Sticking with the topic of eye contact for several days proved to be productive, and in some cases, life-changing for many.

One reader’s comment captured the essence of what so many had expressed to me privately through email. She said, “Wow…when tears are falling down your cheeks as you are reading this, it tells you it’s time to make some changes in your life.”

I am grateful for the honesty you shared in comments such as that. I am grateful for the candor of your observations, as well as the newfound awareness you described. I am particularly grateful for the hundreds of times you “shared” one of the eye contact posts in an effort to bring greater human connection to someone else’s life.

Have I mentioned that I am grateful I am not alone in this journey?

You never cease to inspire me.

You never cease to encourage me to “raise the bar” on my own personal quest to be Hands Free.

That is precisely what happened when one reader shared a thought-provoking article published in “The Wall Street Journal” entitled, “Your Blackberry Or Your Wife,” written by Elizabeth Bernstein. The article is highly worth the read, but it is the author’s short checklist that has resonated deeply with me:

10 Signs Your Devices Are Hurting Your Relationships:

1. You can’t get through a meal without emailing, texting or talking on the phone.

2. You look at more than one screen at a time, checking email while watching television, for example.

3. You regularly email or text, other than for something urgent, while your partner or another family member is with you.

4. You sleep with your phone near you, and you check your email or texts while in bed.

5. You log onto your computer while in bed.

6. You have had an argument with a loved one about your use of technology.

7. You text or email while driving.

8. You no longer go outside for fun.

9. You never turn off your phone.

10. When you spend time with your family—a meal, a drive, hanging out—each person is looking at a different screen.

I heaved a huge sigh of relief when I realized I engage in less of these behaviors that I did a year ago, but I am not letting myself off the hook. The Truth Hurts…but the Truth Heals.

And the truth is…there are still major changes I need to make.

And the other, undeniable, critical truth is…I only get one shot at being a loving, connected and present parent, spouse, and human being.

And there is no time like the present.

I have decided to do a Tech Cleanse (as described by Ms. Bernstein) this weekend. I am turning off my hand-held communication device and my computer on both Saturday and Sunday.

(Did I type that correctly? My hands began to shake as I wrote that…oh yes, The Truth Hurts.)

Internet connection…off. Human connection…On.

Will you join me?

I guarentee your emails will be waiting there Monday morning. But your family? Well, they can only wait for so long.

Haven’t they waited long enough?

Re-read the checklist entitled: “10 Signs Your Devices Are Hurting Your Relationships” once again. Answer honestly. Do you see a need for change? If so, pick one behavior from the list and decide what you can do tomorrow to begin to change (or eliminate) it. On the flipside, do you know someone who could use a wake up call about his or her excessive use of technology? The Truth Hurts, but The Truth Heals. You know what to do.

Regret No More

This is my visual reminder that tomorrow has no guarantee. Find an object that reminds you to live life without regret and keep it where you can see it.

A few years ago I received a phone call that brought me to my knees. In fact, the news was so unbearable, so devastating that I crawled into the corner of my daughter’s closet, as if hiding there would make it go away.

The painful words I heard on the other end of the phone were words that my brain could not believe or understand.  Even now, many years later, I find them incomprehensible.

As painful as it is to imagine, chances are I will receive another phone call like that in my lifetime.

In a post entitled, “I Have Today,” I wrote, “There are no guarantees that life will be as wonderful as it is today.” And I know that it is true.

I know I should prepare in some way for that heart-breaking day, and I have spent several years trying to figure out how.

But it is difficult, if not impossible, to fully appreciate each and every wonderful part of one’s life until that part is no longer there. You know the saying, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.”

I thought about that a few weeks ago when my dear neighbor and friend walked into a dinner at our church wheeling her beautiful mother who is currently being rehabilitated for a stroke that impaired her ability to verbally communicate.

Shortly after the stroke, my tearful friend said, “It has been so hard not to be able to talk to my mom every day. We always talk every single day.”

And then she added something that I can’t seem to forget.

My friend explained, “Ever since I can remember, my mom has always said, ‘I love you today’ because you don’t know what tomorrow will bring.”

I remember feeling a blanket of warmth surround me when my friend spoke those words. Here is a mother who had always told her daughter, “I love you today” just in case she was not able to say it the following day. And now this mother has lost (temporarily, I pray) her ability to say those words.

The first thought that came to my mind upon learning of this mother’s beautiful daily ritual was unexpected. My first thought was not one of sadness, nor one of disbelief. My very first thought was this: “No regrets. This extraordinary woman has no regrets.”

How? Because this incredibly wise and loving mother told her child every single day that she could, “I love you today.”

I was in awe. I was inspired. I was moved beyond words.

This mother had prepared….prepared for the heart-breaking day when you find yourself in the corner of a closet praying to God that you are dreaming and will soon wake up.

How do I prepare for tragedy? How do I prepare for devastating loss? How do I prepare for indescribable pain?

For me, this is one answer: No regrets.

Regret No More.

And now it is time for a list. Lists are concise. Lists are powerful. Lists are undeniable. Lists serve as concise, powerful and undeniable reminders.

I have made a list of regrets. Some are mine. Some are yours. Some have been gathered through an informal process in which I call, “Hands Free Mama Research.”

I regret…

Worrying about opinions that didn’t matter

Accepting less love and respect than I deserve

Too often telling my children ‘not right now’ when they asked me to play

Not looking into the eyes of my children when they talked to me

Ruining a perfectly good day with a bad attitude

Complaining about everything while people who truly suffered complained about nothing

Taking my eyes off my child

Choosing my own needs over those who needed me

Thinking some people are less important than other people

Not saying, “I love you,” when I had the chance

Holding a grudge until it was too late.

I regret…

Every self-depreciating name I called myself

Putting unrealistic pressure on myself

Never knowing God

Figuring out what really mattered after it was too late

Not listening enough and talking too much

Not saying “Thank you” more often

Not saying, “I’m sorry” more often

Ignoring that little voice in my head

Not following my dreams

Not turning off my phone in my car when my children were present

Ignoring God’s calling on my heart

Not making amends with those I had wronged

Not taking time to appreciate the unappreciated people who made my life easier

Neglecting to ask my parents their favorite memories while I still could

Not encouraging my children every chance I got

Not letting my children help me make dinner before they stopped asking

Neglecting to help that person when they were down and out

I regret…

Shortening my lifespan by the choices I made

Rushing through life

Not getting out while I still could

Not embracing my body’s imperfections

Not taking the time to rejoice every single day

Worrying instead of praying

Not living in the moment

Pretending I was fully present when I really wasn’t

Failing to recognize and appreciate every single gift in my life

Taking my loved ones for granted

Taking my life for granted

What about you? What would your personal “I Regret” list look like? Make one today; no one has to see it but you.  Then slowly begin crossing out a “regret” as you begin changing the way you live…with no regrets. Just imagine the overwhelming joy you will feel on the day when you can look at your list and see that it has dramatically shortened.

Before I conclude this post, I feel compelled to share with you what happened after I crawled out of my daughter’s closet on that fateful day.

I was given a gift.

I call it a gift because it has proven to be the most powerful “Regret Preventer” in my life.

A grief stricken father stood before a crowd of mourners who gathered to celebrate the short, yet extraordinary life of his four-month-old baby girl.

This father spoke with undeniable strength and steely resolve for the words he spoke contained a truth so painful that it drained the color from his face.

As he spoke these words, I held my breath. And at that moment, his reality was etched across my heart.

With remarkable composure he said, “Hug your child every day because you never know when it will be the last.”

Now is your chance. Take one regret and begin living life in such a way that allows you to wipe it off the list. Whether it is to make amends, stop belittling yourself or your child, love your body for everything it has endured, stop talking or texting on the phone when your children are present, or to put your life-long dream into motion…whatever that regret may be, begin erasing it today. You have the power to prepare for what may come. You have the power to Regret No More.

The meaning of those eight words is so incredible they bear repeating: You have the power to Regret No More.

And that, my friend, is an incredible gift.

Before you start writing your list of regrets, please press the “share” button below. Every one of us is living with the heavy burden of regret. Lighten someone’s load today; tell him or her the time has come to Regret No More.

Reach Out Reach Up

Two months ago, I asked you to take my hand. Something incredible has happened.

My journey has become your journey. And in the process, your pain has become my pain.

I am humbled each time you place the struggles of your life in my hands.

Through your words, it is apparent that going Hands Free to grasp what really matters can open the tender places in our hearts that we often try to ignore. Going Hands Free causes us to take a good hard look at painful truths that often stay buried.

You have told me of these tender places. You have told me of these painful truths…

You told me you wished you had reached out before he took his own life.

You told me the cancer has spread.

You told me your spouse is leaving you and your children.

You told me your recent divorce means you only have your child part time.

You told me that being your parent’s caregiver is sometimes more than you can bear.

You told me your worries rob you of sleep.

You told me your childhood was painful.

You told me you finally allowed yourself to grieve the loss of your parents.

You told me you don’t want to be held captive by perfection any longer.

You told me you want to be a better mom.

You told me you want to be a better dad.

You told me you cannot breathe through the suffocation that is your life.

And after you revealed your scars, you asked me to pray for you.

And I don’t take that request lightly.

For I have a story. And I feel compelled to share it with you, as you have shared your pain with me. Let it bring you hope. Let it ease your pain. Let it be the answer that brought you here today.

Here is my story…

*Permission granted to use authentic names

A few years ago, my friend’s daughter, a kind-hearted three-year-old nicknamed “Doodle,” became very ill. Over a period of several months, *Mary and Mike took her to every doctor imaginable. When the tests and examinations came back “normal,” the doctors said that there was nothing wrong with her. Mike and Mary were not satisfied with this; they knew something was terribly wrong.

I stopped by Mary’s house to drop something off one afternoon. Doodle’s fever had just shot up, and Mary decided she was going to take Doodle to the emergency room despite the nurse’s suggestion to bring her to the doctor’s office.

I will never forget Mary’s resolve in that moment. In the most terrifying moment of her life, she was brave, strong, focused and determined.

Without a single quiver in her voice, she declared, “I am taking her to the hospital, and I am not leaving until they figure out what is wrong with my child.”

Although she spoke the words to me, it was more of a declaration. It was if she drew a line in the sand; the fight begins here. And Doodle would not be a casualty of this unknown enemy attacking her.

There was nothing that would stop this mother from making her baby well again.

As Mary ran back into the house to gather her lifeless daughter into her arms, she suddenly stopped.  She shouted one last thing to me.

With conviction she yelled loud enough for the whole neighborhood to hear: “Tell people to pray.”

This request was not an after thought. It was a mother’s plea. When stripped of her ability to protect, there is only one answer.

I immediately drove to my church and informed my pastor and anyone else who happened to be there. Then I went home and bombarded the “world” with an email message about a special little girl named Doodle whose life-threatening illness had become a medical mystery. What happened after I hit “send” was amazing.

Doodle took a hold of people’s hearts, and a miracle unfolded right before our eyes.

I was flooded with responses. From everything to “How can we help?” to “Have they tried this?” I was offered doctor names and meals.  Some even asked if I would include a picture of this precious girl that they could not get out of their minds.

Over a five-day time span, I sent updates. Each day, I would receive email messages from strangers all over the country asking if I would add them to the distribution list.

They did not know this girl, but they felt like they did. In a way, it was their own child, their own niece or nephew, their own grandchild whose usual rosy pink cheeks were now the color of a gray sheet. It was their child who trembled with wide eyes whenever the door to her hospital room opened for fear of yet another blood draw or catheterization. It was their child who fought for her life as doctor after doctor scratched his head in bewilderment.

And one day when Mary called me from the hospital, I told her of the outpouring of love and prayer that was coming to her child, but she already knew.

Through her tears, she spoke with certainty, “Rachel, we know. We know. I can’t explain it, but we can feel the power and the comfort of the prayers being said for us.”

On day five of her stay, while performing a chest scan on Doodle, a technician made a mistake. She accidently revealed a portion of Doodle’s kidney, which immediately lead to the diagnosis and successful treatment of a kidney infection.

To those who had come to love this girl, to those who had come to hope for this precious child, to those who had closed their eyes and whispered her name too many times to count, what had happened during the chest scan was no mistake. What had happened was a God-given miracle.

I have the privilege of picking up this healthy, extraordinary child from school each day. It is almost like a dream in slow motion as she runs to my car and the sunlight bounces off her curly dark hair. She is always smiling. Always. This is my daily gift. She is my living, breathing symbol of “hope” in the purest form.

From the moment I started writing this blog, Doodle’s story keeps popping up in my mind. But I wondered, “Why would anyone else want to hear this story?”

It wasn’t until your Hands Free messages starting coming in. It wasn’t until your own life stories of despair and pain caused tears to drip on my computer.

What do I have to give them? What do I have that will ease the pain, help them see there is light; there is hope?

I have the story of Doodle. For it is a testament to the power of reaching out and reaching up.

This is the poem I wrote for Doodle’s on her fourth birthday, shortly after her miraculous recovery. But it could just as easily be yours.

Have you ever been held in an embrace so warm
That you did not want to let go?
Have you ever seen a sunset so beautiful
That you did not want to see it set?
Have you ever heard a song so soothing
That you wished it could play forever?
Have you ever studied someone’s face so intently
That you see it perfectly when you close your eyes?
Have you ever loved someone so fiercely
That her name is written on your heart?
Have you ever prayed for something so hard
That you hear the plea in your sleep?
If you have ever loved,
If you have ever prayed,
If you have ever hoped,
So hard
That angels could hear your voice,

Then you know the story of Doodle.

Whether you are battling a difficult divorce, a debilitating physical condition, or your own vicious inner critic, know there is hope.

Whether the battle you fight is small or whether it is big. Whether it is a public battle or a private battle. Whether you think you have a chance, or whether you think you have already lost. Know there is hope.

Even in the most dark and desolate hole of despair, there is an answer.

Reach out. Reach up. Ask for help.

Ask so loudly that the angels can hear your voice.

Miracles happen. They really do.

Draw your line in the sand. Fight. Fight for what you love, even if that means fighting for yourself.

Reach out. Reach up. And don’t let go.

I have only one challenge for you today. Click the “share” button below. Someone in your life needs this message.  Someone you know is waiting for this message. And if this is your message…my dear friend, if this is your message, you know what to do. Reach out. Reach up. A hand is waiting to hold you.

Someone Will Notice

Things I want to remember get taped to my bathroom mirror. This is one message that is too costly to forget.

It has become a common occurrence for readers to send me messages like the one I recently received from a disheartened mother after dropping off her child at school.

This is what she wrote:

Today I happened to be second in carpool line. In front of me there was a mother playing on her phone as the child watched. While my child and I talked about different kid things like “Monster Jam” and other silly stuff, there were no verbal exchanges between the parent and child in the car in front of us. While my child and I hugged several times before he got out of the car, this parent did not even notice the teacher waiting to escort her child out the car. Needless to say, there was no hug and no good-bye for this child.

I am not perfect, but my experiences with children as a play therapist have given me an understanding about the importance of being a “Hands Free” parent.

And even though I feel like I have lived “Hands Free” since my first child was born, I still ask myself, “What could I improve on?”

Your blog serves as a reminder to everyone, those who have been living Hands Free a long time and those who do not know what it means.

I was very intrigued from this mother’s comment because I often wonder what readers gain from reading my blog. I also wonder what types of people will find value in my writing. Through her comment, this mother indicated that my messages about letting go of distraction are useful for the Hands Free, the Semi-Hands Free, and the Non-Hands Free.

And the honest truth is that at times, I fall into all of the above categories.

While it is true that the fast paced electronic communication overloaded world in which I live fuels my distraction, I must accept responsibility.

It is I who makes the choice on where to place my focus when my children and spouse are present.  And sadly, I don’t always make the “right” choice.

But as I have said many times, the beauty of going Hands Free is that it not about what happened yesterday. It is about today. It is about the critical choices that I make today.

And just as this concerned mother in the carpool line shared, we all need reminders. Even the most lovingly present Hands Free Mamas I am blessed to know need reminders.

That gives me hope. That gives me comfort. That gives me a chance.

So now I ask myself what would be the BEST reminder?

Without a doubt my children are my best reminder. Their words are my best reminder. Their thoughts are my best reminder. Their faces are my best reminder. They memories, their happiness, their precious, fragile, impressionable lives are my best reminder.

So with that in mind, I have created the best reminder that this Hands Free messenger knows how to create; it is the reason I have been placed on this earth. I have written a poem in which I have weighed every word as I write in order to produce the greatest impact possible. And regardless of where you are on the Hands Free spectrum, may it serve as a reminder to you, too.

I Have Noticed: The Inner Dialogue of A Child

It’s what you check as soon as you get up in the morning.
And what you check before going to bed.

It’s what you talk to for hours on end.
And what you listen to no matter what.

It’s what you choose to do when you have nothing to do.
And what you choose when you have everything to do.

It’s what you never leave home without.
And what you always keep close at hand.

It’s what you are looking at when you smile.
And what you are looking at when you laugh.

It’s what serves as your favorite dinner companion.
And what serves as your favorite travel mate.

It’s what you can’t imagine life without.
And what you can’t dream of not having by your side.

It’s what holds your attention.
It’s what illuminates your world.
It’s what stops you in the middle of any task.
It’s what takes precedence over anything else.

I wish it was me. Oh, how I wish it was me.

But I have noticed that it is not.

The center of your universe is not me.

I can’t even compete; I don’t seem to have a chance.

No matter how much I smile or how clever I am,

Regardless of how beautifully I draw or dance for you,

No matter how many times I say, “I love you” or hug you tight,

I can’t even compete; I don’t seem to have a chance.

Someday I might give up, but for now I will keep trying

To be the center of your universe.

I have printed this reminder and taped it to my bathroom mirror. I start my day by reading these words.

And with it, I am reminded that every time I chose distraction over the living, breathing, human being who stands before me, it does not go unnoticed.

There is a longing set of eyes that notices.

There is a hopeful heart that notices.

There is a wishful soul that notices.

I have a choice. Thank God, I have a choice.

Let today be the day that I choose who really matters over distraction.

I guarantee someone will notice.

And perhaps parents that choose to be texting or talking on the phone with their child at the park, the museum, a restaurant, or in the carpool line will notice, too.

The Hands Free Revolution has begun. Thank you for noticing.

Regardless if you are Hands Free, Semi Hands Free or Non-Hands Free, each day you are presented with a choice to choose a living human being over distraction.  What do you typically choose? How will you choose today? Please help spread this critical message by clicking the “share” button below.  Be the reason that a precious child with a hopeful heart is placed first today instead of last.