Home Is Where The Hands Are

A friend I hadn't seen in over 20 years held my hand and healed my heart.

If you are new to the Hands Free journey, I will take a minute to catch you up to speed.

And it will only take a minute because when I say, “A tornado of catastrophic proportions pummeled my state on April 27th,” I don’t have to say much more.

In the days since April 27th, I have been blessed to share my story, the story of incredible survivors, and the story of healing hands. These posts, written under the Hands Free category of There Is A Reason, are some of my most popular posts to date.

It is not necessary to have witnessed or survived a tornado to gain from these messages.

You can gain from them if you simply have the desire to make the most out of the one life you have to live.

The lessons I have received from the tornado and its courageous survivors have been many; they have been powerful; and they continue to come.

But the lesson that stands out in my mind above all the rest is this: The things that matter most in life are not things.

And this message was brought home to me (literally) two weeks ago. Perhaps you were part of it, as so many of you were.

This is OUR story…

I recently traveled north to the state in which I lived most of my life. It is a place that holds special memories for me. I was educated from kindergarten to master’s degree in this state, got married in this state, and even held my first teaching job in this state.

To see the familiar sights and landscapes of my growing years always brings me comfort. Yet, it is the people I love and who love me in return that make it home.

And on this particular trip, I felt an urgency to see the people who are my “home.”

As I drove north from Alabama toward my home state, the words of so many tornado survivors played through my mind.

Standing amidst a mountainous heap of rubble that was once their beloved home, the survivors all spoke the same message: “We are alive! Thank God, we are blessed to be alive.”

They had nothing in their possession except the clothes on their backs, yet they still had their lives and the lives of those they loved. In that respect, they felt as if they still had everything.

I, myself, feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the fact that my family and our home were spared. And I do not want to waste a day. Therefore, my trip back home was an opportunity for me to grasp what matters. I wanted to hug the people who had loved me as an awkward 8th grader, stood by me as an emotional high schooler, and befriended me as a scared first-year teacher.

In the span of six days, I was able to connect with fifteen of those special life-long friends.

It didn’t matter if I last saw my friend one year ago or twenty-two years ago, I was overcome with an indescribable feeling.

I can only come up with two words: Healing Hands.

(You may recall that I used the term “Healing Hands” when I wrote about the incredible response of my neighborhood in the days immediately following the tornado.)

And now I knew what it felt like to be touched directly by healing hands.

One evening during my visit, I was surrounded by a group of extraordinary women when one friend asked, “Can you tell us about the tornado and the people you have been helping?”

I could not stop the tears.

Before I could tell my beautiful friends about the painful loss that so many were experiencing, I first had to tell them how much I loved each one of them and how the tornado had solidified their tremendous meaning in my life.

I knew with certainty that if my house had been one of the thousands of homes that were dismantled down to their studs, I would still have the love and support of these women.

The most important things in life aren’t things.

When it was time to say good bye to each one of my “home” friends, I found myself hugging a little tighter and holding a little longer than I did in previous years. I even found myself getting in a few extra embraces. I didn’t realize why I did that until I wrote a note of thanks to everyone who had made efforts to see me.

I wrote:

There is something powerfully healing about the love of friends who have known you forever. I am so grateful for my friends who have made tremendous efforts the past few days to spend time with me and bring peace to my heart. I’m taking all the love you bestowed on me back to Alabama.

I suddenly realized that with each embrace, I was collecting. I had been gathering every ounce of love, hope, support and faith so that I could take all these beautiful gifts back to the people of my hurting state.

And while I was sheltered for six days in the loving company of my friends and family, destruction, despair, and devastation were alive and well in Alabama.

Inexplicable loss was waiting for me as I crossed the state line into Alabama.

Along the side of the road were men and women working diligently in 100 degree heat to clear enormous trees haphazardly placed along the side of the highway like a child’s toy Lincoln logs.

The size of the piles of debris they had already compiled seemed to dwarf them as if they were merely tiny specks standing next to a mountain of rubble.

My daughters’ sorrowful voices arose from the back seat, “The tornado, Mama…The tornado.”

Sights such as this do not require whole sentences.

Monstrosities such as this need no details.

I could not respond, for I knew my voice would fail me.

As I looked out to see the visible loss, I couldn’t help but think about the invisible loss, the loss that now scars hearts, dreams, souls and spirits.

How will they ever recover?

And then I remembered the way the healing hands had touched me. And it made me think of The List. The list that I had been collecting since April 27th and had yet to share. I knew it was time to share it.

Whether this list brings you hope or inspiration, there is a reason you find yourself here today.

The Angel Impact on Alabama’s Tornado Survivors:

You (and twelve different healing hands from Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Alabama) provided beautiful clothes and toys to a family who lost their home and car and are still looking for a place to live.

You mailed a pink and blue bible to two beautiful children who tell people, “My Mama went to Heaven,” but still ask their Grandma if their mother will be at church today.

You shopped for new clothes for a little boy whose mother had died protecting him in the tornado.

You took time off work so you could remove trees from people’s cherished homes.

You took time off work to comfort those who were in despair.

You took time off work to dig through the rubble of someone’s precious belongings while she cried by your side.

You recovered a family’s beloved dog buried for days under the destruction that somehow miraculously alive.

You asked your child’s preschool to collect school supplies for 400 school children in Alabama who lost not only their school, but also their homes.

You and your son unselfishly laid aside your own battle with cancer to donate and ask others to donate to those who are hurting.

You told all your friends and family about a family in need and collected a television, coffee maker, clothing, and an abundant supply of gift cards for a family who lost everything; you even offered to drive 800 miles to deliver it personally.

You didn’t even have shoes on your feet, but you dug through the rubble until you recovered someone’s beloved ring that once belonged to her grandmother and now is her symbol of hope.

You designed exquisite handmade cards entitled “Shells For Change” with proceeds of the sale going directly to families impacted by the tornado.

You sent your own daughter’s clothing even though she has yet to outgrow it because a little girl needed it more than she did.

You rallied your entire school and created 20 huge boxes of school supplies to a town that was literally wiped off the map.

You sent $1,000 to someone you did not know, simply going by faith that the money would go to two children who lost their beloved parent…and it did.

Your child made a beautiful hand made card for a heart-broken family and encouraged her classmates to join her.

You sent a gift card for groceries to a woman who fell to her knees in gratitude when she received it.

You received word of what the survivors needed desperately and within twelve hours a garage floor was covered with supplies.

You were the reason seven vehicles loaded with donated supplies reached a hurting town of tornado survivors, bringing both men and teenage boys to tears.

You offered your hands and your equipment because you had survived a flood and knew what the desolation was like.

You supplied a brand new toddler bed for a precious child who had nothing left but the pajamas she was wearing the night the tornado hit.

You bought a prince costume for a little boy whose heart ached for a mother’s return that will never come.

You sent nourishing homemade chicken noodle soup to three families who needed comfort in every form imaginable.

Your little hands gave away your favorite books.

Your little hands gave away your favorite princess dresses.

Your little hands gave away your favorite stuffed animals.

You took a moment out of your busy life to see if someone you cared about in Alabama was OK when you saw the news and images of the mile-wide tornado on national television.

You cooked food for the first responders to the disaster who hadn’t eaten in days.

You played “Amazing Grace” to an incredible woman who would give her life to have her daughter back with her children.

You joined your fellow Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts to organize, load, and distribute loads of school supplies to children who would have been buried under three feet of concrete had it not been for the forethought of their school officials.

You organized a blood drive that created a supply great enough to save hundreds of lives.

You gave your precious time and your precious blood.

You made a cross from the iron scraps of leveled homes so that the distraught owners would forever have a piece of their sacred residence that had once been their safe haven of love, memories, and family.

Your class made cards so the people of Alabama would know they are loved.

Your small hands collected butterflies from a Cirque Du Soleil show and made a beautiful poster for a special boy and girl.

You generously gave your family heirloom dining set to a family who must start over.

Your loving child donated her charity money, as well as her entire savings, after hearing the devastating loss of a precious family.

You asked, “How can I help?”

You asked (again and again), “How can I help?”

You haven’t forgotten that on this very day people are still hurting, still searching, still digging, and still mourning all they have lost.

This is only a fraction of the healing hands that have touched the broken hearts across Alabama; this list only contains the first-hand experiences I have been blessed to witness. There are thousands more just like these.

Just as the hands from my “home” friends had a comforting presence on me, the healing hands from around the country have touched Alabama. And these gestures translate into love, hope, dignity, grace, respect, and compassion.

And what makes the impact even more powerful is that the givers did not know the receivers in these acts of kindness.

The Angel Impact is alive and well, my friends. And it has hands that are healing.

I am simply the messenger on this journey to grasp what matters. It is by the grace of God and by every angel listed above that I have this message to give:

It doesn’t require money to have healing hands.

It doesn’t require education, prestige, or status to have healing hands.

It doesn’t require beautiful words or flowery gifts to have healing hands.

It doesn’t require a large group or a big organization to have healing hands.

It only takes ONE….one person with a desire to help in any way that person can.

No act is too small; no act is too simple to create the impact of healing hands on a broken heart.

And I conclude this post with a picture taken on one of the days my husband, Scott, served on an UMCOR Early Response Team.

In a field of splintered, broken pieces where not one household item was recognizable, Scott pulled out a Bible with miraculously undisturbed pages.

The section that jumped out from the page and made his hands tremble was this:

The islands have seen it and fear; the ends of the earth tremble.They approach and come forward; each helps the other and says to his brother, “Be strong!”
-Isaiah 41:5-6 (King James Version)

The journey to grasp what really matters has brought me here.

And now things have become clear.

THIS is what it’s all about: dropping the meaningless in our lives, letting go of distraction in order to grasp WHO matters.

The things that matter most in life are not things.

Whether it is a natural disaster, a man-made disaster or a life circumstance disaster of our own doing, the only thing we may have left is one another and the healing hand reaching down to help us up.

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What does “home” mean to you? If you woke up tomorrow and your residence and everything inside was gone, what (or who) would you still have?

Can you think of someone in your life that needs a healing hand? Even if you simply take a moment to ask, “How are you?” and provide a listening ear, the impact can be great.

*If you are interested in writing an encouraging note or directly helping a family impacted by the tornado, feel free to use the “Contact Me” link above.

No act of kindness is too small to those who will be putting the pieces of their life and their heart back together in the long days ahead.

The Gift Of The Open Door

You won't know what is waiting for you...or who is waiting for you...until you find your way home.

In honor of Memorial Day, this post is dedicated to the men and women who bravely served our country, yet never got to come home. Perhaps someone will read this post today and say, “Come home,” to someone who has been waiting to hear those words.  Tomorrow may not allow the same opportunity.

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Whether you like dogs or not, it does not matter.

Whether you have witnessed a tornado or you haven’t, it does not matter.

This story is about a dog and a tornado, but there is more to it than that.

There is much more to it than that.

This story is about coming home. And there is not one person in the entire world that does not need to hear these words at least one time in his or her life.

If you find yourself here today, there is a reason.

I invite you to seek that reason within the words that I write today.

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*Out of respect for these individuals, names have been changed.

I have been heavily focused on the incredible survivors of the April 27th tornados that left a wake of destruction and suffering in the state in which I reside.

I can’t stop the tears when I see the indescribable damage and loss in my community that will take years and years to repair, and may still never be the same.

I can’t stop the tears when I hear the astonishing stories of survival that people miraculously lived to tell.

And for some reason the story of Shelby The Dog has left a lasting impression on me.

This is Shelby’s story, yet it is more than a dog story, and it is more than a tornado story. It is a story we all need to hear…

In the wake of the destructive tornado on April 27th, my husband, Scott, chose to be trained as a leader of an UMCOR Early Response Team. His UMCOR team was among the first to assist tornado survivors at the location of their home, or in some cases, where their home used to be.

Before his team could help clear debris and sift through the wreckage to find valuable family mementos, the team was required to obtain permission from the homeowner.

Through this initial conversation with the owner, my husband was granted an invitation into the most painful, horrific, and miraculous stories of survival and faith.

I will never forget the night my husband came home and told me the story of Mr. Frank*.

Mr. Frank lived in a remote, rural area north of Tuscaloosa. He lived on a meandering country road that held five long-standing homes. All the homeowners were related to each other, except for Frank and his wife, Betty*.

In preparation of the EF5 tornado predicted for his area, Mr. Frank and Betty went to a designated tornado shelter. This decision undoubtedly saved their lives, as all five houses on their road were leveled by the mile-wide tornado. Tragically, the lives of several of his beloved neighbors were taken.

Mr. Frank had not been able to take his dogs with him to the shelter. Thus, the first thing he did upon return to his demolished home was look for his two dogs.

He immediately found one that did not survive the storm. His other dog, Shelby, could not be located.

Mr. Frank and his wife returned to the site of their desecrated home each day. Despite being in a state of shock, they were forced to comb through the massive heap of rubble in an attempt to recover a mere shred of something valuable from their past.

What is left of Mr. Frank's home can be seen here.

But there was just one thing Mr. Frank was desperate to find. He wanted to find Shelby, dead or alive; he just wanted to know where she was.

Then one morning, five days after the dog had been carried away by the storm, Mr. Frank got down on his knees and prayed for the return of his dog. He was willing to accept if the dog was dead; he just wanted his dog back.

A few hours later, a small black dot appeared just on top of the hill that overlooked Mr. Frank’s house.

It was Shelby.

With an unbelievable amount of strength after the trauma she had endured, she came running down the hill into her master’s open arms.

Mr. Frank was not able to tell my husband that story without crying. He surmised that Shelby had ridden the storm for miles and miles. Wherever that storm took her required at least a five-day journey to return home.

She was now more than simply “Shelby The Dog.” She was now famously known as “Shelby The Miracle Dog.”

As Mr. Frank lovingly held Shelby in his arms against the background of mass destruction that surrounded him, you could easily see he was holding much more than simply a dog he loved.

Mr. Frank was holding his living, breathing, tangible sign of hope. Despite all odds, Shelby was alive; Shelby came home.

If you are like me, you have tears in your eyes right now. For some reason, this story causes me to become very emotional every single time I think about it.

I do like animals, but it’s not like I am a huge dog lover. For several weeks, I tried to figure out why this story meant so much to me. These questions haunted me:

Why did you write, “Dog flying in tornado came home” in your writing notebook and circle it in red pen?

Why have you been waking up at night feeling the need to tell the world about Shelby?

Why does this story mean so much?

I did not know the answer…until yesterday.

Yesterday I had a vivid flashback to my senior year in high school. I was sitting on my bed and my mom came in the room to talk to me.

(Keep in mind, I was not the easiest teenager. I was in the stage where I only allowed my parents minimal interaction with me, was not overly friendly, and appeared annoyed by anything they had to say.)

Yet, despite the fact that I was a self-centered, difficult brat, I was not so self-absorbed to realize what my mom was saying to me was huge.

I can still hear her voice, her inflection, as she said these monumental words: “Rachel, I want you to know that no matter what you do, your dad and I will always love you. No matter what happens, you can always come home.”

I nodded and said, “O.K.,” pretty much acting like it was no big deal.

But I knew it was a big deal.

It was a big deal because she meant it. She meant every word like it was her heart and soul.

I was her heart and soul…that is what she was telling me.

I now knew that even if I got myself into a mess of trouble…drug addition, unwanted pregnancy, educational failure, it would not be the end.

I now knew that even if I made a horrible, stupid, costly mistake, I would not be discarded, unwanted, and abandoned like trash.

In the breath of two mere sentences, I became fully aware of just how much my parents loved me. And suddenly my doubts and fears about being “good enough” or “perfect” were put to rest.

My parents loved me because of who I was, not because of what I did or didn’t do.

What a gift I was given… the gift of an open door. No matter what, I can always come home.

And now, I long for the day when I can speak the same two sentences to my own daughters.

And I know exactly how I will tell them.

I will share the story of Shelby The Miracle Dog. Then I will say this:

No matter how tattered and torn you are, no matter how many wrong turns you have taken, no matter how far off the beaten path you have gone…you will never be lost. My precious daughters, I will never stop loving you. No matter what happens, you can always come home; I will always be waiting for you with open arms.

I am simply the messenger on this journey to grasp what really matters. It is by the grace of God, Mr. Frank and Shelby the dog that I have this message to give. And today’s message, which has been placed upon my heart for someone who is reading these words today, is this:

Even if you think you are not good enough,

Even if you think you have made too many mistakes.

Even if you think you are a lost cause,

Even if you think you burned too many bridges,

Even if you think you do not measure up,

Even if think you have used up all your chances,

Even if you think it’s too late,

I have news for you.

It’s not too late to come home.

It’s not too late to come to that place of loving forgiveness and acceptance. Whether that place is in your own heart or in the heart of someone you loved and lost, it’s never too late to open your arms and let the healing begin.

You may be tattered and torn.

You may have walked some very painful miles.

But you won’t know what is waiting for you…or who is waiting for you…until you make your way home.

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*If you are reading this today and have a child or a teenager, give them the gift of the open door. Don’t wait to tell him or her that you will love them always, no matter what. Tell them today.

*If you are reading this and have been estranged from someone you love, there’s a chance that…

Someone may be waiting to hear your voice.

Someone may be waiting to hold you in her arms.

Someone may be waiting to say, “I’m sorry.”

Take the first step. Walk toward that person with whom you have been estranged. Reach out your hand and ask him or her to come home.

*If you are reading this and have deprived yourself of full and complete happiness and love because you have not felt “good enough” or worthy enough, isn’t it time to come home?

To everyone reading this: Life is too short to fold your arms. Open them like Mr. Frank did when he saw Shelby run down the hill and collapse into his arms. It’s never too late to find that place of loving forgiveness and acceptance; it’s never too late to come home.

If you feel this is a worthy message, please share it.

Shells of Change

Shells of Change

We are merely shells until we are filled,
Inner greed and self-obsession silently killed.

We are merely shells until we are washed clean,
Soothing painful scars and hurts unseen.

We are merely shells until we are shining in the sun,
The moment two hands stretch to become one.

We are merely shells until we are held upon an ear,
Whispering, “Shhhh…I’ll quiet your fears.”

We are merely shells until we are polished by a wave,
Radiantly beaming from each life that we save.

We are merely shells until change comes from our hand,
Calming the mighty winds that shift the fragile sand.

I have learned on this journey to live Hands Free that the most meaningful things are unplanned. The things that matter most simply unfold if you let them.

This was not the post I planned to write today, but the words found their way to paper because I could not stop them from coming.

There is a reason.

The inspiration for this poem came from talented artist and writer named Barb Black. She lives in Washington. I live in Alabama. She does not know me; I do not know her, but we were brought together by a storm. I translated Alabama’s tears into words; she reached out to wipe them.

Barb has designed a beautiful note card entitled, “The Winds of Change,” for the survivors of the devastating tornados that hit Alabama on April 27th.  The proceeds of the cards will directly impact two families that have lost more than words can describe in this post. You can read more about Barb’s beautiful gesture here.

Barb’s name was #27 on The Alabama Angel Impact List that I have been keeping since April 27th.

There is a reason.

And you can bet this Hands Free Mama will take time to say “thank you” in a post that has yet to unfold; I am still processing it in my dreams. (Those are the best ones.)

But for now, I leave you with this:

Have you filled your shell today?

Have you filled someone else’s shell today?

You might find, like the 27 angels on my list, that when you go to fill someone else’s shell, you end up filling your own.

That’s just how it works.

Isn’t it beautiful?

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We are all called at some point to reach out to someone in pain. Perhaps the Alabama tornado tragedy has not been the right time for you. No worries, for your chance will come, my friend. There will be more storms, figuratively and literally that will bring a chance for you to reach out. In fact, I am certain there is a storm going on in someone’s life at this very moment; someone you know is going through a storm every single day of the year. Find out who it is and then fill…fill…fill…that empty shell. And watch as your shell begins to shine like never before.

*If you are interested in purchasing a set of the individually hand made “Shells of Change,” note cards click here.

Some Rain Got In

I didn’t want my four-year-old daughter to be thrust into the agonizing side of reality, not this soon.

I knew this day would come, as it has for all of us, but I wanted to shield her from the pain of loss, the finality of death, and the worry of the unknown for just a bit longer.

But there are things I cannot control, so I am trying to see the positive.

Twenty days ago, I would not have been able to tell this story. But today I can.

And there is a reason.

Whether the “storm” you or your child faces is literal or figurative, may this message remind you that from within the painful depths of a scar, light can be found.

Bring on the light.

This is my story…

In the minutes after an EF2 tornado tore through my neighborhood upsetting the balance of tranquility and safety, my neighbors ran out of their homes. People began immediately surveying damage, moving fallen trees, removing mangled trampolines from unbelievable places, and placing tarps over punctured roofs and blown out windows.

All three exits and entrances to our community were impassable, so the only help we had was from each other.

Whether your own home had damage or not, everyone came outside. There was a need to be simply together, either assisting one another or processing what had taken us all by complete surprise.

Since there was no school, no electricity, and limited phone access, my daughters and I walked around the neighborhood for several hours, stopping to ask people how they were doing and asking them whether or not they had suffered damage.

As we walked, we continually spotted sights that made us gasp. It is not every day you see enormous, historic old trees completely uprooted like matchsticks along our daily thoroughfare. Suddenly you realize how truly small and vulnerable you are.

It was the trees without tops that disturbed my oldest daughter.

She said, “It looks like a huge axe came through and chopped off their loveliest part, Mama.”

My youngest daughter was especially perplexed by our good friends’ loss of their chimney. She perseverated on the fact that the tornado had just blown their chimney right off. It became her job to check every home we passed to see if they still had one.

If she couldn’t spot a chimney, she would point her little finger and with utter dismay report, “Their chimney blewed right off, Mama!”

She then was quick to note if they had a hole in their roof or missing shingles. Little did I know that surveying roof damage would become her latest obsession since Polly Pockets.

Later that evening a tornado of epic proportions was predicted for our area. This time we were prepared in the basement with a surplus of flashlights, a battery operated weather radio, water, and other necessities.

Thankfully, my husband was with us this time and had the insight to also gather our bicycle helmets, (which I take this opportunity to make a public apology to him for joking about his thoughtful, perhaps life-saving, action).

While many precious lives were lost, destroyed, and turned upside down in those horrific hours, my family remained safe, unharmed, and untouched. I am determined not to go a day without being thankful for that fact.

Our home and our possessions were intact; yet, it saddens me to realize that something was lost.

My four-year-old child’s perception that life is safe, predictable, and void of devastation and pain was completely wiped away.

I would like to deny this truth. I would like to say I am over-reacting. But I can’t and this is why…

Here is the new reality:

*My daughter doesn’t say “Nortado” anymore. She pronounces “Tornado” perfectly. It is now part of her frame of reference. She knows how to say it, what it does, and how it can literally tear life and limb from its innocent bystanders. Furthermore, she uses the words “destroy,” “dead,” and “orphan,” like they have always been part of her vocabulary.

*My daughter doesn’t live in the world of Disney movie endings anymore. She now knows that a kiss or a magic potion cannot bring people back to life once they have died. She knows many people were killed in the storm…even Mommies, even Daddies, even little children just like her.

*My daughter no longer believes that just because we live in a brick home we are safe from the destruction of the outside world.  She saw with her own eyes that strong wind, flying debris and falling trees can make their way into the safe sanctuary of our walls. Furthermore, she heard her mother cry out to God, the only One who could protect them when all other sources of protection are futile.

*My daughter no longer thinks everything can be repaired instantly or return to “good as new” condition. She monitors the roof damage on certain houses in our neighborhood and asks me to drive by them daily. She is terribly disappointed to see many are still not repaired or that some are only half way finished. She now knows damage like this takes time and effort to repair. And she is sadly aware that some places, some people, and many lives will never be what they were before.

But then there is also this…

*My daughter doesn’t think she is too little to make a difference to someone in pain.

*My daughter realizes she has far too much and it is her DUTY to give some of it to someone who has less.

My daughter welcomed the opportunity to give her beloved princess dresses and special toys to a three-year-old girl who lost her home and all her possessions.

*My daughter now knows that when it is all said and done, she doesn’t want “stuff” in her hands; she wants a hand in her hand.

*My daughter now knows that if she were hurt or abandoned, God would send angels to come to her aid.

*My daughter knows she holds the words to ease someone else’s pain, and this is the gift she was meant to give in her lifetime on earth.

My daughter sang "Amazing Grace" to two little tornado survivors and their grandmother.

Those are the things I try to focus on when I wake up in the middle of the night with tears streaming down my face as I try to shut out the heart breaking stories and scenes of loss that are now engraved inside my brain.

And like my daughter, I too, am fixated on the blue tarps that still sit atop my neighbor’s roofs.

I find myself repeating this mantra:

A hole was made. Some rain got in…but so did some sunshine, so did some sunshine.

Then I think about my daughter’s heart:

A hole was made. Some pain got in. But so did some compassion.

And so did a greater understanding about the preciousness of life.

And so did her desire to help someone else in only the way that she can.

This was not the way I wanted her to learn these valuable lessons. This was not something I would have chosen for my daughter, for my neighbors, for the good people of my state.

But it happened. And you better believe I will use it for good.

A crack was made.

Some rain got in.

But now out of that very crack, light has come pouring out.

May my child’s newfound light shine where it is most needed.

Bring on the light.

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I think we can all agree that life can be cruel, throwing us challenges and heartaches when we least expect it. It can be tough on us as adults, but we tend to worry most about how these experiences affect our children.

It may not be a tornado, but there are plenty of destructive forces that can change lives in a moment…divorce, disease, loss, death, financial problems, the list is long and devastating. But instead of seeing the scars upon our children (or on yourself) as purely negative, try and see the positive. Focus on the opportunity for growth, increased strength and character, and a chance to ignite a newfound compassion that did not exist before.

From the site of the scar a beautiful light can come pouring out. And the light might just be bright enough to heal a broken heart.

Walk By Faith

What can be learned from the incredible tornado survivors of April 27th is a lesson for anyone who wants to make every moment in life count.

*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of these incredible souls.

Yesterday, I wrote a blog entry entitled, “There Is A Reason.” In it, I let readers know they could expect to see some posts that have derived from experiences I have had regarding the tornados which occurred on April 27th that killed about 350 people and injured thousands more across seven states.

I hoped to make it clear that you did not have to be directly (or even indirectly, for that matter) impacted by the tornados to gain from these messages.

You merely have to have a desire to make the most out of this one life you have been blessed to live.

I am so glad you are here. I think you will be glad you didn’t miss this one…

I am preparing to write letters to three people that I don’t know. I am following my own Hands Free advice by using the strategy, “Take Time to Say It.”

I have seen, time and time again, that we often have the words someone else needs to hear.

The first person I am writing to is Miss Dottie Mae*. She is in her 70s. She used to be an elementary school teacher. Her passion in life was traveling around the world, but not for leisure, she went on countless mission trips in her early years.

Her husband, who passed away one year ago, was a former professor at the University of Alabama. He became very ill in the last years of his life. She lovingly cared for him day after day in the corner bedroom of their ranch style home in Tuscaloosa.

Thirteen days ago, Miss Dottie Mae hid in a closet when the earth shook with the violence of an erupting volcano. She cowered in utter fear, as the sound of something alive bore down her neighborhood obliterating everything in its path.

She wore the hallow look of shock and devastation of someone who had suffered extreme trauma when the UMCOR Early Response Team from my church came to her home.

After speaking to her with compassion and hearing her beautiful life story, my husband asked if they could help her by removing debris from her yard and her home.

Miss Dottie Mae only wanted one thing.

She wanted to salvage the furniture from the room in which her dying husband lived his last days.

These precious items that held great meaning were trapped beneath the enormity of a 200-year-old fallen tree that had crushed that particular part of her home.

That is all she wanted.

The team moved her husband’s bed and chair to a location in her home where it would be free from the ailments of damaging wind and rain.

The Early Response Team prayed with Miss Dottie Mae before they headed off to the location of their next work order.

I can’t seem to stop imagining what Miss Dottie Mae did after the team left her home.

I imagine she placed her fragile, aging body upon her husband’s bed.

I imagine she stretched her body out, yet kept her arms wrapped around her body, as if to remind herself she didn’t dream the last thirteen days of her life.

I imagine she could feel the warm tears flow from the corner of eyes, down the sides of face into her hair and finally onto the bed that had held her true love.

And for the first time in thirteen days, she felt comfort.

She couldn’t see him, but he was there; he was there. She knew with certainty that she was not alone; he was there beside her. And had been there all along.

We walk by faith, not by sight. 2 Corinthians 5:7

The second person I am preparing to write a letter to is Mr. Franklin*. He is in early 60s. He was forced to retire as a garbage collector six months ago due to severe injuries resulting from his fall from garbage truck going 30 m.p.h.

Mr. Franklin’s knees are in bad shape. He has a hard time bending over. But that did not stop him from doing his passion.

The remains of what had once been beautiful flower beds and lush greenery stood out like precious gems against the disarray and destruction which now covered the front yard of his home.

Thirteen days ago, Mr. Franklin hid in a shallow trench under his home where a heater used to be.  He remembers being huddled there with his battery-operated radio, which he eventually had to turn off because he couldn’t bear to hear, “It’s coming! It’s coming, and it’s a killer,” one more time.

He recited Psalm 23 over and over as his ears popped and the foundation of his house shook violently above him.

Mr. Franklin had a look of helplessness when the UMCOR Early Response Team arrived at his home.

He pulled up his pant leg and showed the team the unsightly scars from his fall from the garbage truck. It was as if he had to show these men and women why he could not clear the wreckage from his yard and home him self. He clearly wished he could.

When asked how they could help him, Mr. Franklin only wanted one thing.

He wanted to be able to access his garden, which was currently buried underneath huge trees and dangerous debris.

That is all he wanted.

I thought about what Mr. Franklin did after the team prayed with him and departed to their next work order.

I imagine he went to his garden, which he truly believed had just been cleared by angels on earth.

In his mind’s eye, he envisioned what was to come: plump red tomatoes, crisp green beans, enormous cucumbers and vibrant heads of cabbage.

Then I imagine he very gingerly kneeled down in the rich, resilient soil.

I imagine he dug his hands deep into the healing earth that quickly became saturated with his flowing tears.

And for the first time in thirteen days, he felt comfort. He couldn’t see Him, but He was there; He was there. He knew with certainty that he was not alone. He was by his side. And He has been there all along.

We walk by faith, and not by sight. 2 Corinthians 5:7

The third person I am writing to is actually two people. They are small children, a brother and sister. One is four-years-old and the other is five. They reside with their maternal grandmother.

I do not know where they hid during the tornado, but I am certain that is an unbearable story to hear.

The monster tornado ripped through their town, destroying their home and mangling all their possessions beyond recognition.

But there is more.

This mile wide tornado that took their home and everything inside, also took their mother.

Unlike Miss Dottie Mae and Mr. Franklin, they have nothing tangible from their past to comfort them.

But there is hope in this story, and someday I pray for the opportunity to share it with them.

These two precious children have an angel who lives in Georgia.

This total stranger (to both them and to me) knew they were in need before I even knew their names.

Within a day of learning of their situation, this angel provided for them with the kind of generosity and selflessness that creates an illuminating light in a tunnel of darkness and despair.

And she is just the first of many angels who will come into their life at exactly the precise time they need it.

They cannot no longer see their mother, but she is there; she is there. They are not alone; she is right there beside them. And she will be there all along sending angels, sending angels.

We walk by faith, and not by sight. 2 Corinthians 5:7

I am simply the messenger on this journey, and it is by the Grace of God, and by the Liberty Crossings United Methodist Church’s Early Response Team that I have this message to give:

It is time to stop letting the material things that we think we need, want, and desire be the things that give us meaning in our lives.

It is time to stop judging our success by the amount of money we have, the square footage of our home, the size of our waist, or the number of awards on our wall.

It is time to stop filling our schedules with so much excess that we barely have time to think, let alone breath, and take in the joy and beauty that surrounds us.

It is time to grasp tightly to that which will sustain us when all our “things” are taken from us and we are left with nothing.

What we can see with our eyes fades.

What we can feel in our heart endures, lasts, sustains, and comforts.

Even when we have nothing but the clothes on our back, we will still have something to carry us.

It’s time to walk by faith, and not by sight.

I’m ready. Are you?

*******************************************************

For months I have been struggling to grasp what truly matters. And now? The answer has been thrown into my face like a cold bucket of water.

The things that mean ANYTHING at all in this lifetime are not things. What matters is the love between family members, the memories we create, time spent together, helping our brothers and sisters in time of need, moments of solitude and gratitude with The One who sustains us. What truly matters is nothing you can buy in a store and nothing with a screen or buttons to push.

Take some time today to make a list of what really matters to you. If your home and your possessions were gone tomorrow, what would sustain you? Then make every effort to grow closer to that which you cannot see, but what you can feel in your heart and in your soul.

*A final note: my deepest gratitude goes to my husband, Scott, who looked into the eyes of Miss Dottie Mae and Mr. Franklin and listened compassionately to their stories so that they could be shared through my hands. May we all be changed, as he has, by the heart-breaking sights and stories he experienced while helping these incredible survivors.

There Is A Reason

As I help my Alabama neighbors salvage anything from the desolation that is now their life, I am being overwhelmed with powerful messages. And you need not be a tornado survivor to gain from them. These messages are for anyone who wants a wake-up call about what truly matters in this one life we have been blessed to live.

When I began this Hands Free journey nine months ago, I did not know where it would take me.

I didn’t plan to come here, to a place of introspect so deep that it hurts.

But this journey has taught me the most meaningful things come from the unexpected, from the unplanned.

And then there are The Reasons.

There is a reason I decided my journey to grasp what really matters should be open for the whole world to read.

There is a reason I am privy to people’s most inner pain and struggle to find meaning in their life.

And as of late, there is a reason I found myself hugging my daughters against my chest in a dark basement praying for the safety of our lives.

And there is a reason my husband was among the first responders to the destroyed homes and collapsed lives of incredible survivors.

And there is a reason that “Now Is The Time,” the entry posted one day after the worst natural disaster since Hurricane Katrina occurred, has become my most popular post to date.

There is a reason my blog subscriptions have dramatically increased in the past ten days.

There is a reason I wake up at 3:00 a.m. with words so moving that I stumble to the kitchen to write them down.

There is a reason the messages derived from the killer tornados of April 27th are coming faster than I can write them.

And the reason is yet to be revealed.

But I do know one thing: These messages are at the heart of what it means to truly grasp what matters in this precious life that could so easily be gone tomorrow.

And to be changed by them does not require that you survived a tornado, ever witnessed a tornado, or even heard the word “tornado.”

You merely have to have a tiny, yet undeniable inner urge to make the most out of this one life you have to live.

And you do. Because that you are here.

And I hope you will stay as I write these messages that were created in the chaos and rubble of a tornado, and in the hearts and souls of its survivors and angel helpers.

And these life-changing messages will fall into the category, “There Is A Reason.”

These messages will come on no particular day and will be in no particular order. They will come when I least expect them, yet they will come when someone most needs to read them.

They will come simply because I have no other choice than to write them.

And to deny these messages would crush the very heart of what it means to be Hands Free…which is what brought me here in the first place.

And there is a reason.

You may find yourself in a place you didn’t plan to be,
Seeing things about yourself you do not want to see.

But I implore you, even beg you, if I may,
Not to shield your eyes, not to look away.

For it’s when delving deep that a silhouette appears,
An outline created from hidden hurts and darkest fears.

Of the person you have always longed to be,
Through the eye of the storm, we can finally see.

My friends, I hope you will stay to see your silhouette.

There is a reason.

*****************************************************************************

Do you ever feel like your life is a chaotic storm? Do you find the way you live your life in conflict with what your heart and soul truly feel is important? Do you ever long for a “wake up call” about just how precious each moment here on earth REALLY is? Well, I didn’t plan to come here on this journey, but my eyes have been opened. And I am not going to look away.

Where I am going is painful; it is not pretty, but through it I am gaining momentum against the excessive distraction that blinds me from what really matters. Through the eye of the storm, I am able to see.

I hope you will stick by my side. Together we will get to the heart of the matter. And that is where I long to be. How about you?

Healing Hands

I am part of the “Me” generation, a generation that has been described as selfish, preoccupied, distracted, and egocentric…among other things.

And I have been guilty of living up to every single one of those characteristics.

But there are times when I rise above it.

And when I do, I want to believe that a little trait of the “Me Generation” is striped away.  I would like to hope that a fraction of my unsightly self-centeredness disappears, never to rear its ugly head again.

In desperate times, there are hands that rise to the call. Even hands, like my own, that most often think of personal needs and the needs of my own tight circle of friends and family.

This weekend, I witnessed what can happen when hands let go of the material, the insignificant, the unimportant, to grasp what really matters.

This weekend, I witnessed what becomes of hands when they come together and reach out outside their inner circle to those in despair.

They become Healing Hands.

Because when tragedy strikes your backyard, a cold harsh reality hits you between the eyes and breaks your heart in half.

Suddenly you realize the difference between “us” and “them,” is a matter of five miles, is a slight change in wind direction, is the placement of your home.

With a frightening realization you discover the difference between “us” and “them” is a radical cancer cell, a clogged artery, a misjudged runway, a reckless driver, or a deadly undertow.

You realize the difference between “us” and “them” is simply being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

You realize it could have just as easily been “us,” instead of “them,” standing in utter despair and shock wondering where life as you once knew it has gone.

Your only prayer, your only saving grace, comes in the form of a healing hand.

And despite what you might think, a healing hand does not require extensive effort, excessive monetary funds, or even a large amount of time.

In fact, if one hand reaches out in some small way to help, the results can be astounding.

If one hand expresses care and concern to one single person, the impact can be immeasurable.

In a small neighborhood with limited, sporadic, and in some cases, non-existent electronic communication or power, this is what healing hands can do.

In a matter of hours, my neighbors filled my garage with supplies for those devastated by the storm.

In two days, a small community packed seven trucks and SUVs full of needed supplies for the tornado victims.

Because of these healing hands, a mother had her first meal in three days.

A hungry baby finally received a bottle of formula.

A traumatized child held a stuffed animal and cried.

A pair of shoes was placed on a battered pair of feet that had gone for days without.

A father who used his body to protect the lives of his family was given new clothes.

Someone received a bar of soap, batteries for their depleted flashlight, clean diapers, hand wipes, a chance to quench his thirst, a chance to catch her breath, a chance to see a brighter day ahead, a chance to see they are not forgotten.

And because of these healing hands, there were tears. Lots of tears. Grown men and teenage boys wept at the sight of seven truckloads packed full of supplies given by people they had never even met.

And as we stood side by side in prayer with those who had endured sights and sounds no human being should ever have to bear, I thought to myself:  This could be me standing here wondering how I will ever get my life back.

This time it is not me, but it is my brother. It is my sister. It is my neighbor.

And there is no question what I must do.

I am simply the messenger on this journey to grasp what really matters. And by the grace of God, I have this message to give:

No matter how close or how far you live from destruction, disaster, poverty, homelessness, desolation, disease, and pain, there is someone within arm’s length who needs your healing hands.

Put down your cell phone, your remote control, your to-do list. Set aside your schedule, your calendar, and your list of daily activities.

Set aside your own agenda and your own needs; let a tiny part of that “Me Generation” that lives inside all of us completely fall away.

Let go of the daily distraction that we are so easily fooled into thinking MATTERS and instead go Hands Free and…

Hold someone up for air.

Hold someone who can’t stand.

Hold someone into the loving light of hope.

Hold someone in the grasp of your healing hands.

Because there is a very thin line between “us” and “them.”

And one day, one terrible, devastating unforgettable day, you might just wake up and find yourself on the other side.

And I pray that a healing hand will reach for you, my friend.

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A personal note from the Hands Free Mama:

My source of communication since Wednesday has been sporadic, but at certain times, I have been able to receive messages and phone calls of care and concern.  And although I haven’t been able to respond to each one personally, I want you to know something: Your concern and well wishes matter more than I can ever express in words. In so many ways, you have let me know that I matter to you. And that is all any of us really want in life, just to know we matter. I will never forget every single one of you who reached out your healing hands to my family, my state and to me. Thank you. Thank you.

I will be in touch personally with those of you who have asked for a specific family to be an “angel” to once I get those specifics and regain Internet connection to my home. The Angel Impact lives on in you.