The Low-Hanging Fruit You Can’t Afford to Miss


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“Gonna walk this road
See where it leads
Gonna bless the flowers
Gonna bless the weeds
Gonna stay together
Nothing’s gonna pull us apart
Gonna walk this road and mend each others hearts.”
–Eric Bibb

*names have been changed

Even if his checkout line is a little longer, I always choose this particular bagger’s lane. This conscientious young man reminds me of a former special education student who brightened my first year of teaching. If I needed to move a chair, *Dan was there, refusing to let me lift a finger. If I was about to open a window, Dan was quick to say, “Let me do that for you, Miss Macy.” If he heard I was having car troubles, he’d offer to take a look during his lunch hour. Amazingly, Dan offered the same kindness to all his teachers and fellow classmates. Dan struggled with academics, but in altruism, he excelled.

This particular bagger resembles Dan in looks, but especially in mannerisms. The first time he bagged my groceries, I could see he was cut from the same cloth as my former student – he was a helper too.

“Hello,” said the young man as I pulled up my cart.

“How are you today?” I asked.

“Doing pretty good,” he said with a slight slur and a big smile.

As the man carefully bagged my items, he leaned against the end of the checkout stand to support his uneven posture.

We chatted about the heat and the cat treats I’d purchased as he filled my cart filled with bags. When he got to the two last bags, I watched curiously as he gently hung them in an unsuspecting place. A few inches below the cart handle were two tiny metal rungs just big enough to hold a bag.

“Wow! That’s a clever idea. I’ve never seen anyone do that before,” I commended.

My 13-year-old daughter’s head quickly turned from the row of celebrity magazines to see what all the fuss was about. Her face showed equal surprise. “That is a good idea!” she complimented the man.

The customer behind us peered around his loaded cart and nodded. “Hmmmm … that’s new to me,” he agreed.

Even the unsmiling cashier stopped ringing up items to look up. “That *Steve,” she said flatly, “He comes up with some good ones.”

And that’s when I turned and looked at Steve.

It was his moment … and he was shining in his moment.

“Can I borrow your idea sometime?” I asked the beaming young man.

Steve nodded enthusiastically, “Sure. Just be sure to get the bag right on the hook—and nothing too heavy,” he advised.

As my daughter and I pushed our cart away, I glanced back at Steve. He was still shining. He was still feeling his moment. Please never let me be too hurried, too distracted, or too impatient not to notice these things, I prayed in my head. I decided the best reminder would be a picture; I could make it my screensaver.

When I got to my car, I snapped this photo. Suddenly, three words came to mind: low-hanging fruit.

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In the business world, the term typically means a quick fix that produces ripe, delectable results or a target that’s easy to achieve.

Yet, there is low-hanging fruit in everyday life too.

It’s in welcoming faces, accepting voices, and loving touches.

It’s in quiet acts of generosity that seek no recognition.

It’s in heartfelt conversations, sustained eye contact, and lingering hugs.

It’s in the sky and the clouds and the birds and the wind.

It’s in the songs on the radio; it’s in our loved one’s laughter.

It’s in handwritten notes and handpicked flowers.

It’s in the words, “Have a nice day,” as you leave the building.

When you notice and acknowledge the low-hanging fruits of everyday life, gratitude washes over you and has the potential to spread to those around you, creating positive results.

But when you neglect to see the low-hanging fruit – perhaps due to hurry, impatience, over-commitment, need for control, perfection, distraction, exhaustion, or stress – you’re more likely to focus on what is wrong. This focus often results in complaining, criticizing, self-absorption, hostility, and despair, which also have an impact on those around you, but it is negative rather than positive.

But awareness is a game-changer.

Awareness is a life-changer.

Once your eyes have noticed ripe fruits, you can’t help but look for more.

Since spying those bags and witnessing Steve’s reaction, I’ve been on a mission to look for the low-hanging fruit in everyday life. Educator and poet Glenis Redmond has name for this life-changing practice. She calls it “cataloging beauty.” Let her powerful, poetic truths soak in for a moment:

“I am not against critique, but the world’s need to nick pic everything is a dis-ease. What I crave is holiness. We are so far away from the heart, when only the head leads with only what is wrong. How about the million beauties you walked by today and did not see? Name them. The world needs/ I need your catalog of beauty. What is your catalog of beauty?”

Thank you, Glenis. I have begun my catalog of beauty:

I found it in the handwriting of my 6-year-old nephew’s thank you card.

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I found it in my father’s birthday candles–seventy-seven years blessed–and the cherry pie my husband made for him.

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I found it in a flour-dusted counter top with apron-clad girls being supervised by a kitten in a fruit basket.

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I found it in a colorful butterfly that followed me on my walk.

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I found it in a new friendship, clearly orchestrated by something far greater than either of us.

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I found it in two rescue cats, one big, one little, that decorate our windowsills.

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I found in the voice of my daughter while being accompanied by her three best friends.

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In just a few days, this eye-opening practice has confirmed exactly how I want to live my life. I refuse to waste any more precious time cataloging my gripes and grievances. Instead, I want to catalog what is good and holy and helpful and true.

Because the truth is this:

The country needs
The community needs
The man who bags my groceries needs
My family needs
I need
my catalog of beauty.

And I know exactly where to find it.

Life’s divine beauties are right under my nose, ripe and ready, just waiting to be noticed.

I shall notice. I shall bring attention to them. And I shall watch them shine in their moment.

It will be mine too.

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Dear friends of the Hands Free Revolution, what is your catalog of beauty? Where do you find what is good and divine and replenishing? And if you realize you have been focusing too much on negative things, please don’t wallow in regret. Today matters more than yesterday … and awareness is everything. May you go through this new day with eyes & heart wide open. It’s never too late to begin your catalog of beauty. If you need a visual reminder, the “see flowers not weeds” metal cuff is helping many members of our community focus on what is good. If have joined me on Instagram, be sure and tag me in your beautiful photos that reveal where you find goodness & beauty. 

If you have missed my prior announcements about my upcoming speaking events, please see my event page as some ticket links have come available. I will be heading to the Bay Area, Chattanooga, Clarksville (TN), and Mandan. After speaking, I will have a chance to meet each of you and sign copies of my books, HANDS FREE MAMA and HANDS FREE LIFE.

Thank you for walking beside me. This incredible community represents a major section of my catalog of beauty. I cherish you. 

A Comeback Anthem for the Fighter Within

DSC_0831“I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light.”
-Helen Keller

I was a few months late coming in for my follow-up x-ray, but as soon as the technician began speaking, it was clear I was right on time.

“How long have you had the pain?” she asked, ready to jot down my response on the form in hand.

“Over a year,” I said matter-of-factly, sounding oblivious to the fact that a year was a long time for such a thing.

She stopped writing on her clipboard and looked up. “Oh honey. I am sorry,” she said like a dear friend would to another.

I wasn’t expecting that—that human response in this sterile room with ominous machines and cold floors and exposing gowns that made me feel small and scared.

“Do you think you need a new doctor?” she asked.

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From Seeing My Worst in You to Seeing Hope for Both of Us

13

‘Cause I am done with my graceless heart
So tonight I’m gonna cut it out and then restart
‘Cause I like to keep my issues strong
It’s always darkest before the dawn.
-Florence and the Machine

You turned 13 years old this week, my beautiful daughter.

I can’t help but feel celebratory and hopeful when I look at you.

It hasn’t always been that way. For many years, I looked at you and saw the damage I’d done. I saw the traits I didn’t like in myself—ones I’d inadvertently passed down to you.

too impatient

too controlling

too worry wart

too task driven

too rushed

too independent

too overreacting

too secretive

too sensitive

too perfectionistic

too contentious

For many years, I was afraid the damage was done … and could not be redeemed.

But then I stood in front of an audience, baring my soul. You stood off to the side, away from the crowd. I wasn’t sure if you stood there in case you needed to make a fast getaway or because you didn’t want to miss a single word. I was nervous to see your reaction to my honest admissions. Yes, you’d experienced life with a critical, hurried, distracted, and spread-too-thin mother, but this would be the first time you heard my most difficult confessions spoken out loud.

My main concern was that the description you were about to hear about the “old me” – particularly the characteristics I was trying to soften and reign in – would sound an awful lot like you. I didn’t want you to think that just because I needed to make changes, you did too. I didn’t want you to think there was anything wrong with the way you were. One thing was for certain: keeping my struggles and triumphs to myself would not be helping anyone. I swallowed my fear and began to speak.

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Taking Off the Ticking Clock

 

taking off the ticking clock #handsfreemama.com

It was while watching my daughter eat a sno-cone on a summer trip to the beach that I experienced a life-changing epiphany.

Truth be told, it was our second trip to The Sno-Cone Shack in three days. (Believe me, these were not your average sno-cones.) On this particular visit, Avery got a scoop of wedding cake and a scoop of cherry. I don’t think I will ever forget how delicious that unlikely combination of flavors tasted when  my daughter gave me the very last bite.

Because I didn’t hurry her.

Because I said, “Take your time, baby. We don’t have to rush.”

Because that big ol’ ticking clock that I wore around my neck during my impatient Hurry Up Years had been left behind. Without the squeeze of that ticking clock around my throat, I could breathe; my child could breathe. I was all there with my daughter on that unforgettable day.

stopped saying 'hurry up' #handsfreemama

I ended up writing about the sno-cone experience and provided a painful glimpse of what life was like when I pushed and prodded that same little girl through her day. I had no idea millions of people would eventually read those painful truths—but even if I had known, I still would’ve written it—for the people walking around with the heavy clocks around their necks.

I had the chance to edit the story before The Huffington Post published it. I remember looking at the live preview thinking I should probably add something like:  “While it is important to have unhurried moments in life, it is equally important to instill a sense of responsibility and promptness in our children.” After all, I was a teacher for ten years. I know full well the importance of promptness and dependability.

But I didn’t change one word of that story. Not one. I knew I would take some heat, but I was okay with that. I was writing to The Clock Wearers of the World—the ones functioning at one speed and one speed only … the ones “hurry upping” their loved ones through life even when it wasn’t necessary … the ones who’d lost sight of what really mattered by living in constant state of urgency. I knew breathing was becoming labored for those wearing the ticking clocks heavy on their chests. I knew because that is how I lived for so long.

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That Moment When Your Flaws & Failings Don’t Matter

eyes HFMI see the whole world in your eyes
It’s like I’ve known you all my life
We just feel so right
So I pour my heart into your hands
It’s like you really understand
You love the way I am.”
-Rachel Platten, Better Place

On Monday night, my nine-year-old daughter announced she was going to practice one last time for the upcoming third grade talent show. The following day, she’d be performing “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten, which we both knew would be crowd pleaser among her young classmates.

As she began to play, I closed my eyes, imagining for a moment what the children’s faces would look like as she began to strum and sing. Most of her classmates had never heard this girl sing, let alone play guitar. As she shared her musical gift in that spotlight moment, I knew it would be hard for her to contain her smile.

But I would not know for sure because I would not be there to witness it.

“Parents aren’t allow to come to the third grade talent show, Mom,” she’d said matter-of-factly two weeks ago, breaking my heart right in half.

“What? You must be mistaken,” I said feeling inappropriately emotional about this news.

“Nope. No parents. It’s just for kids,” she said doing nothing to soften the blow … that is, until she saw the look on my face. Patting my hand gently, she said, “Don’t worry, Mom. I’ll be fine.”

I knew she would be fine. I’d watched her confidence blossom over the past year. I knew she would take the stage by storm. Selfishly, I wanted to be there to see it. Standing in an auditorium or classroom with shining eyes as my child reads a story she wrote, recites a line in a play, or sings alone or with a group, is my moment of redemption. My child scans the crowd until she finds me, and I look at her with all the love in my heart. In that moment, guilt cannot touch me. Regret leaves the premises. Mistakes of the past completely vanish. All that’s left is proof I have loved; it is written all over her face.

Three years ago I grasped this redemptive gift for the very first time. I immediately knew it was not exclusive to me, nor was it mine to keep. So I wrote it down. Today, it is yours … word for word. May these words be the reminder you need this very moment. May your flaws and failings fall away so all you are left with is hope …

last pic HFM

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Breaking a Common Barrier to Better Myself & Expand My Child’s Future

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“I didn’t know I was lonely ’til I saw your face.”
Bleachers, I Wanna Get Better

“Instead of riding the bus today, could we go to breakfast and then could you drop me off at school?” my almost thirteen-year-old daughter unexpectedly asked me on a recent Friday morning.

My Type-A, plan-happy brain initially resisted this spontaneous invitation. While my brain began to list the reasons I couldn’t, my eyes saw something else. Standing in front of me was a not-so-little girl in stylish tribal print pants that were just a little long for her small physique. They wouldn’t be too long forever, I knew. She would grow into them; it wouldn’t be long.

“Okay,” I said, suddenly grateful to have an hour alone with this beautiful, growing girl.

After having a nice visit over chicken biscuits, we ran into a nearby store for a piece of poster board. As we stood in the checkout line, a woman pulled her cart up behind us. Standing in the back was a little girl who appeared to be three or four years old.

“Mama, can I get out?” the little girl asked.

No response.

“Mama, can I get out?” she repeated—this time a little louder.

Still no response.

“Mama, please can I get out?” the child politely asked as the woman used her pointer finger to scroll down the screen of her phone, happily smiling to herself.

As the little girl continued to ask the same question, her left leg inched higher and higher over the grocery cart until it appeared she was going to get out herself. My daughter, sensing the little girl was about to fall, quickly stepped next to the cart, preparing to catch her.

The little girl looked at my daughter and put her leg back in the cart. She began asking the same question once again, in hopes her mother might respond to her pleas.

We hadn’t even made it to the car when I saw tears forming in my daughter’s eyes. As she shut the door, she quietly said, “That made me really sad.”

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Here, You Can Breathe … Here, You Are Enough

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Hold tight; you’re slowly coming back to life.
I’ll be keeping your head up.
Let go of all your haunted dreams tonight.
I’ll be keeping your head up.
Birdy

*name has been changed for privacy reasons

Six weeks ago, I was feeling unsteady, depleted, and far away from myself. I was finding it difficult to do my job … to respond or communicate … to do laundry … look presentable … and leave the house. I knew my fragility was a result of extending myself beyond reasonable limits and neglecting to give myself proper time and care after multiple surgeries and an intense book-writing period.

It went against every fiber of my conscientious, people-pleasing nature, but I began declining or flat out ignoring the many requests of my time and energy that kept pouring in despite my vow to create some breathing room. The world is not going to give me permission to stop; I reminded myself. I am the only one who can give myself a reprieve. I decided my family and my emotional wellbeing were going to be my focus during this restoration period I called ‘coming back to life’ … my life … as opposed to accepting a depleted life lived according to other people’s demands and expectations.

I knew it was no coincidence that around the same time I created breathing room to reconnect with my heart and the heart of my family, two volunteer opportunities fell into my lap. Even more convincing was they were on my daughters’ “wish list” when we moved to our new state almost two years ago. To be a volunteer at an animal shelter was Natalie’s wish. To “adopt a cute, elderly person” was Avery’s wish. In the busyness of life over the past two years, I’d nearly forgotten my daughters had once expressed the desire to have these particular opportunities.

And now here they were.

At the same time.

When I was trying to create breathing room.

As you can probably guess, my initial reaction to these opportunities was irritation. Really? I am having trouble getting my own cat’s liter box clean right now. How am I supposed to garner the energy to leave the house and clean twelve of them?

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Words We Cannot Afford to Keep From Our Children

lifeline #hfm

“When I need to get home,
you’re my guiding light,
you’re my guiding light.”
Foy Vance

It was almost one o’clock a.m. when my plane landed. I felt anxious. It was only my second time flying back to my new “home”, a city that contained one of the busiest airports in America. I reminded myself that the hosts of the speaking event I just attended were aware of my travel anxieties and poor sense of direction. They kindly arranged a transportation company to retrieve me from the airport and take me home. I managed the airport shuttle without trouble and felt certain I was getting off at the right stop. But when I went to the top of the escalators, my ride was not there. I felt my chest tighten, my pulse quicken. I looked around and saw a vast hallway quickly emptying as people hurried off to their destinations.

I fumbled for my phone. I called the transportation company and said I could not find my ride. They instructed me to find the Delta terminal, walk outside, go down a ramp, and look for the area where cars were idling. I told them I did not see any Delta signs and was not familiar with the airport. “Could the driver please come to me instead?” I asked, trying to keep my emotions in check. They put me in touch with him. The way he spoke to me was rude, condescending, and not helpful at all.

I stood in the middle of the massive airport deciding if I should walk outside in the darkness, unsure of where I was going, or stay put. With shaky hands, I wiped the tears falling from my eyes. I didn’t know what to do.

“I see you are troubled. Can I help you?” a uniformed driver waiting for his client said in a beautiful accent.

When I explained what happened, he offered to talk to the driver. As he waited for the man to answer his phone, he reassuringly said, “Don’t worry, I will help you.”

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When You Want to Pull the Blanket Over Your Head, Do This Instead

hospital #HFMThe smell of hospitals in winter
And the feeling that it’s all a lot of oysters, but no pearls
All at once you look across a crowded room
To see the way that light attaches to a girl.
–Counting Crows,  A Long December

A few days ago I went to the hospital for a CT scan of my abdomen and pelvis. When the technician shut the door so I could undress, I was alone with my nerves, heart rate monitors, and a pair of oversized scrubs. I nervously looked around the room.

I was looking for warm blankets.

There weren’t any, but I had faith there would be some. I vowed to keep my eyes open as I peeled off my clothes with shaky hands. About an hour later, I found what I was looking for … and maybe it is what you are looking for today. This is my story, may it bring hope where it is needed today …

When I had two kidney surgeries five months ago, they were at two different hospitals, two weeks apart. At the first hospital, my teeth chattered a lot. Before the surgery and after the surgery, my teeth constantly rattled. My kind nurse said, “Oh honey. We need to get you a warm blanket.”

She walked off briskly and came back with a clean white blanket that had been warmed to a perfect temperature. I could not believe it. It was such an unexpected kindness … an absolute luxury … a going-the-extra-mile action that I didn’t think people did anymore. My teeth stopped chattering almost instantly.

“Thank you. Thank you,” I said for this perfect gift I could hold both figuratively and literally in my time of fear.

I ended up asking for warm blankets more than pain meds during my stay. I was pretty sure they had healing powers.
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Life-Saving Reminders for a Child

"If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain; If I can ease one life the aching, Or cool one pain, Or help one fainting robin Unto his nest again, I shall not live in vain." -Emily Dickinson

“If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.” -Emily Dickinson

The term cyber-bullying sounds so futuristic … so foreign … and so far-off.  When I heard the word about a year ago, I thought I had plenty of time before this type of threat could touch my family. Part of me wanted to believe we could avoid it altogether—that it was something that happened to “other people”.

But now I know that kind of thinking is just foolish and naïve. I know this because cyber-bullying has been getting frighteningly close to home. Family friends and loyal readers of my blog are telling me just how easily it happens … just how damaging it feels to the victim … just how helpless it feels to the parent … and in some case, just how devastating it feels to be the bully who never intended for things to take a tragic turn.

I’ve made a conscious effort to protect my children from the dangers of the online world by installing filtering and accountability software. I have established an open line of communication with them and am involved in their online activities. But despite having these external protections in place, cyber-bullying (and good-old fashioned face-to-face bullying) can still happen and is happening. In many instances, these attacks are coming from trusted friends and classmates within a child’s social circle. [source]

At times, I’m tempted to banish technology from our lives—but I know that is not a realistic solution. Electronic devices are becoming an integral part of the education system. For my older daughter, these devices have quickly become tools that are required to complete daily schoolwork. I watch in awe as she uses technology to create, navigate, and acquire important skills for the future.

It is imperative that I continue to provide external protection for my child in the digital world, but that is not enough. I must also provide internal protection—protection of her heart, mind, spirit, and emotional wellbeing. I must provide affirming words and beliefs that she can use as armor if and when she is attacked.

A very brave mother spurred this action in me. Her beautiful and vibrant daughter, Rebecca, took her life after being a victim of cyber-bullying. As I read the significant actions that Rebecca’s mother, Tricia Norman, took to protect her daughter and remove her from the toxic environment, I couldn’t help but weep knowing the outcome. The mother noted that she thought things were going better for Rebecca at her new school, but the child kept her distress from her family. “Maybe she thought she could handle it on her own,” Ms. Norman said.

Maybe she thought she could handle it on her own.

After reading that particular sentence several times, my role as a parent of a child growing up in the 21st century became crystal clear. I want to be sure my child knows she doesn’t have to go it alone.

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