Moving On Better Than I Was Before

hill climb

There is a moving van parked in front of my house today. This is the house where I let life slip right through my multi-tasking fingers, but it is also the house where I grasped what mattered with two free hands and one committed heart.

Although my husband and I have moved four times since we were married, this fifth move feels like the hardest. As I drive the kids home from swim team practice, the mailboxes of my neighbors make me sad. As I walk the halls of my children’s school, the artwork of children I’ve watched grow brings tears to my eyes. Even the swing at the park remembers all the times I pushed small shoulders beneath flying hair and wiggly feet. Unlike the other moves, this one feels like a tragic loss.

Why? I’ve wondered over and over. What it is about this move that makes it more painful than the rest? As I’ve climbed the hill where I had my Hands Free breakdown-breakthrough, I’ve had some time to think about this. You see, I walk that hill almost everyday. To me, it’s holy ground—Mother Nature’s life-size reminder of where I once was and where I want to be: present, connected, and fully alive. My climbs up this hill are now numbered. I am down to two.

As I sweated my way up the hill the other day, I remembered my biggest worry when I moved here six years ago was that my younger daughter was still not walking. She was nearly two-years-old and preferred shuffling around upright on her knees. My husband and I joked that she might just slide across the stage with holey knees and a jubilant smile to accept her high school diploma. But alas, those worries were put to rest a few days after the moving boxes were unpacked. I’ll never forget how my curly-haired daughter stood right up, walked seventeen steps, and never looked back.

Yes, my daughter learned to walk in this house. I guess you could say so did I. I’d been running, running for so long that I’d forgotten how to slow down, to breathe, to live, not just merely survive.

It is here where I learned to live, really live.

This is the house where I learned to stop multi-tasking the moments away. On a golden yellow sofa my younger daughter learned to play the ukulele while I learned how to be still. My undivided attention was required as she plucked her C chord and G chord with awkward fingers. Through these daily practice sessions, I learned that playing by heart didn’t sound perfect, but it made a happy sound. I learned that ten minutes of loving connection with another human being had the power to bring healing and hope to a regretful soul.

ukulele on yellow couchThis is the house where notes written in exquisite kid penmanship were plastered on kitchen cabinets, bathroom mirrors, and doorframes. They served as stop signs for my frenzied existence. Slow down. Don’t miss the love, the notes cautioned. Through the little papers that still hang in my bathroom cabinet today, I learned that stopping to give love meant a chance to be loved. I learned that what is most urgent in life must not be prioritized over what is most important in life.

love notes as stop signsThis is the house where a sea of rice fell upon the kitchen floor… where fear gripped my older daughter’s face and I saw a bleak future for a mother who expected too much of herself and the people she loved … where I fell to my knees and helped my child sweep up a thousand tiny white grains while praying for strength to dismiss my inner bully … where “only love today” became a song in my head that I played on repeat.

live more love more blog 3This is the house where I began sharing my Hands Free journey with the world through this blog … where neighbors took off their cloak of perfection and stood with me in the light of realness … where children of the community know me as the lady who always wears hats, loves to show children how to pack shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child, and lives out her childhood dream of being a published author … where my kids and I are loved “as is” despite our flaws and imperfections.

loved asThis is the house where my older daughter made an impromptu garden smack dab in the middle of the back yard. Miraculously, I did not tell her to move it. And every time I looked out the kitchen window, that little garden reminded me to cultivate and protect the passions of my heart. I was reminded that what matters most must be nurtured and brought into the sunlight daily. Otherwise, our life’s true purpose is too easily buried and forgotten beneath the excess, hurry, and distractions of life.

cultivating the passions of the heartThis is the house where my younger daughter wrote her name on the wall of her closet and instead of yelling, I looked into that remorseful face and reached out my arms to hold her. I could not explain why, but as I did it, I felt such hope. It was the first real tangible sign that I was making progress on my journey to live more and love more in each precious day I am given.

closet name #handsfreemamaThese are the floors where my baby learned to walk.

Where I learned to walk instead of run …
Where I learned to reveal instead of hide …
Where I learned that the truth hurts, but truth heals and brings me closer to the person and parent I want to be.

It pains me to think about walking out of this house, but I’m okay with being sad for a spell. Long gone are the days when I would force a smile and say, “I’m fine,” through gritted teeth. Now I try to offer the gift of authenticity to myself and to those I love. I thought about that as my older daughter and I were purging her bedroom of old toys and unwanted items over the weekend.

As we worked together to stuff a gigantic stuffed bunny into a donation bag, she stood up abruptly and clutched the window with both hands. Looking out at her neighborhood of friends that have become like sisters, she somberly stated, “I don’t want to move away.”

My mouth opened to remind her of all the positives to come, but I quickly shut it. Instead I held her and whispered, “I know, baby. I know.” And then we cried together, neither of us ready to move on from that moment or these walls too quickly.

So as you see, the lessons of the Hands Free journey continue to emerge even as boxes line the halls and shiny coats of paint cover fingerprint smudges.

And there is great comfort in that.

Whether I am in Timbuktu or Home Sweet Home,
Whether I am in the midst of joy or pain,
Whether I am lost or I am found,
Life-changing discoveries are mine for the taking with two free hands and one committed heart.

I took one last walk with a beloved friend—the friend who has heard all my difficult truths, yet never left my side. As we walked, she was relaying what she told her daughter in the midst of teenage heartache. “Let’s look for the blessings,” my sweet Southern friend repeated the words she’d said to her daughter a day earlier. Little did she know, she was talking straight to my heart. “Let’s look for the blessings. We can’t see them yet, but we will. We will,” my friend said determinedly as we climbed our favorite hill together one last time.

All at once, I was powerfully reminded that there, among cardboard boxes, goodbye hugs, and tear-stained cheeks, are blessings yet unseen.

I will be looking for them. Oh, yes, I will be looking for them. Because I learned how, right here in this house. I have no doubt there are more lessons in new places and new people just waiting to be grasped.

And there is great comfort in that.

on porch************************************************

Some people love change and adventure, but I am not one of those people. I like familiarity and sameness. As a directionally challenged person, I like to know my way around. As a planner, I like to know what to expect. Needless to say, this move means I am going to be out of my element for awhile. Yet, I am seeing this as a positive—an opportunity to grow, open my eyes a little wider, and gather life-changing discoveries that come with stepping out of one’s comfort zone. I don’t want to miss a thing. I want to be available to my new surroundings, but most importantly, I want to be available to my family. I have decided to step away from the blog and The Hands Free Revolution page during this time of transition. When I began this blog, I vowed to live the life I write so I trust you know that is what I am doing. Thank you for understanding my absence and having faith I will be back sometime soon to share my stories with you. You are a blessing to me. 

Feel free to share what lessons you have learned during major life changes. Please share how you are moving on literally or figuratively. I am always touched and inspired by what you write!

I leave you with a few beneficial tools to Grasp What Really Matters created by some awesomely brilliant colleagues of mine:

1) Rachel Miller and Holly Homer of Kids Activities Blog have immediately impacted my family’s summer with their newly released book! The fun-filled activities and projects in this book have created family bonding time, device-free time, learning experiences, and major independence! My school-age children were able to do many activities without adult assistance and all the materials we needed were on hand. You can read about the book here and order here.

2) I love what author Shawn Fink is creating in the name of Banning Busy. Check out 50 Slow Summer Fun Ideas to Help You Ban Busy and The Abundant Mama’s Guide to Savoring Slow .

3) Nothing thrills me more than seeing that my friends at The Happy Family Movement have created NED the Phone Monster! NED stands for No Electronic Distractions. NED sits on your kitchen counter as a landing place for phones. Because NED needs to be “fed” daily he helps you: “Put down your phone. Pick up your life.” Check out how you can support the kickstarter campaign and bring home a a NED of your very own!

4) Finally, I highly encourage you to reserve 5 quiet minutes to soak up these profound and affirming words about “present-moment success” by the talented Beth Berry. “How to Be Successful Without Completing a Thing” came to me when I most needed it and has offered me more peaceful exhales than I can count over the past few weeks.

 One final note: I am very sorry that some subscribers of my blog have received old posts emailed to their inboxes over the past few days. I believe I know what triggered it, and hopefully it won’t happen again. Thanks for your patience! 

 

The Ten Minutes that Changed My Distracted Life

“By offering to give love, you are offering yourself a chance to be loved.”  –Rachel Macy Stafford

“By offering to GIVE love, you are offering yourself a chance to BE loved.”
–Rachel Macy Stafford

Something happened over the holidays that I wasn’t planning to share, but I’ve decided it must not be kept to myself. You see, lately I am getting a lot of messages from readers that say, “I am who you once were, but I don’t know if there is hope for me; I don’t know if I can change; I think it’s too late for me.”

Three and a half years ago, I said those same words to myself. In fact, when I began taking steps to let go of my distracted, perfectionistic, hurried ways I didn’t tell anyone for three months. Why? Because I thought change was not possible for me. I once believed I was too far gone to ever come back. But this past December 24th, I was powerfully reminded what I once believed was so wrong. Here is my story. May it reach someone who longs to believe change is possible. Believing is the first step.

 ______________

We were supposed to leave the house in nineteen minutes. In my hand, I held my child’s holiday dress and her pretty tights.

“Honey, it’s time to wake up and get dressed for the Christmas Eve service,” I said gently to my seven-year-old daughter who was barely visible under a mound of blankets.

“I’m too tired,” she moaned without opening her eyes.

Two hours earlier I’d suggested she take a nap since we’d be up late, but now I was regretting it. My lethargic child looked as if she could sleep for several more hours.

“Come on, I’ll help you get dressed,” I offered.

She didn’t move a muscle.

This was not like her, but yet I was starting to feel agitated. “You can have two more minutes to rest, then it will be time to get up,” I firmly stated using a tactic that worked well with my former special education students.

After tidying up a few things around her room and glancing at my unusually put-together appearance in her mirror, I told my daughter it was time to get up now.

“I don’t feel good,” she cried.

I expelled a long, hot breath before speaking. “Mommy is trying to be patient with you, but I am starting to feel impatient,” I said honestly. “I’ll take you to the bathroom and then I bet you’ll feel better.”

At the pace of an elderly person with bad arthritis, she gingerly crawled out of bed and plopped down on the toilet.

“I will put on your tights right here,” I said knowing we needed to leave the house very shortly if we were going to get seats in the service.

“I don’t feel good,” she repeated once again—but this time the word “good” turned into one long wail. Her face crumpled in pain.

Three and a half years ago, this is when I would have lost it.  This is when I would have gruffly shoved her feet into those tights and barked that we were going to be late. This is when thoughts of my own agenda, my own appearance, my own timetable, and my own demands would have overruled all else. This is when things would have gotten ugly.

But things are different now.

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Freedom From Your Fears

 facing fears handsfree mama

My younger daughter recently learned about Chucky. You know–the angry red-headed serial killing doll who never left Tommy’s room without a knife. If you managed to avoid the Chucky movies that were popular in the late 80’s/early 90’s, consider yourself lucky. It was horror at the most ridiculous level. However, I knew the movie was realistic enough to scare children. I dreaded the day my kids found out about wild-eyed Chucky and suddenly their beloved American Girl Dolls were ushered from their rooms at night.

For three nights in a row, my daughter woke up crying and could not go back to sleep.  Coincidentally, I was awake all three of those times because I was dealing with my own nighttime fears.

My fears were brought on during a conference call with my publishing team. While talking over what I might expect around the time of my book release, the possibility of traveling to large metropolitan areas for television interviews came up.

Whoa.

Whoa.

I wanted to be sure they knew some important details about me—I wanted to pipe up with this:

Do you know what I wear every single day? See this comfy Dri-fit? This is my Writer’s Uniform, and I rarely deviate from it. And see this laptop? This is how I communicate. This is where I think about what I am going to say, then I type it, then I change it a bunch of times, and then when I am good and ready, I hit ‘publish.’ Wearing my comfy uniform. In my basement. Alone with my cat, who at times, is even too much company.

I was terrified at the thought of taking my directionally-challenged self outside familiar surroundings. I warned my supportive team members that I would surely get lost in the hotel, and I would never make it on time to my interviews. They assured me I would not be alone and continued being so excited and pumped up about the possibilities. But I couldn’t stop the fears from welling up inside me.

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Three Words for the Critic in Your Head

 someone #hands free mama1

When that little voice says, “You messed up again,”
Remember every tear you ever wiped,
Every knee you ever dusted off,
Every broken heart you ever mended,
Every disaster you ever fixed,
So someone else could be put back together.

When that little voice says, “You lost it again,”
Remember all the times you waited outside the school doors,
waited in the audience,
waited on the sidelines,
waited in the waiting room,
waited in the cold,
So someone else could be found.

When that little voice says, “You can do better,”
Remember all the times you put someone’s needs before your own,
Sacrificed sleep so someone else could rest,
Pushed away hunger so someone else could eat,
Gave everything you ever had,
So someone else could triumph.

When that little voice says, “You are missing out,”
Remember when you juggled a million things so you could be there.
When you smiled through your exhaustion,
When you crawled in the bed at midnight,
When you held a shaking hand,
So someone else could feel unalone.

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Taking Away My Daughter’s Smile

taking my daughter's smile #handsfreemama.com

My life contained everything I’d ever wished for—a loving husband, two beautiful children, a healthy mind and body, and a safe and comfortable home.

Given such desirable circumstances, one would have thought I’d wake up every morning feeling grateful, happy, and content.

But that was not the case.

I woke up feeling the same way I did when I went to bed the night before—unhappy, annoyed, and irritable.

Mentally, I could acknowledge my life’s abundant blessings, but I didn’t really see them or feel them because I was too focused on my life’s abundant distractions. Too many commitments. Too many screens.  Too many self-induced pressures to be all and do all. Too many unachievable standards. Too many to-do’s and never enough time.

And when you’re overbooked, hurried, and clinging to the electronic device, there’s very little time to laugh, rest, play, and simply BE. And that’s when the smile on your face tends to disappear.

Although I managed to plaster on a smile in public, my face wore a frown in the privacy of my home. You see, when you are living a highly distracted life, nothing—not even the beautiful faces of your loving family—can bring you joy.

The truth hurts but the truth heals … and brings me closer to the parent and person I want to be.

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Two-Handed Living

surgery #handsfreemama

I didn’t expect my reaction to be so intense. After all, I’d been told many times that it was “just” rotator cuff surgery. For months, my husband made his procedure sound like it would be no big deal. But when he was hooked to beeping machines and ominous-looking drip bags and wheeled into the operating room, things didn’t look so simple to me.

As soon as the double doors of the operating room swished closed, I sequestered myself in the corner of the waiting room and cried. Because that is what happens when you know something deep down in your soul …  when you are certain of someone or something so much.

The next day, while sitting side-by-side with the patient secured in an obtrusive black brace and resting comfortably on pain meds, I got the call. It was my first of multiple book deal offers. A lifetime of filling blank pages in hopes of holding a published book in my hands was suddenly close enough to touch. The eight-year-old storyteller in me jumped for joy and hollered, “You didn’t give up!”

As soon as I hung up the phone, I bowed my head and cried. Because that is what happens when you know something deep down in your soul … when you are certain of someone or something so much.

When I looked up from my joyful breakdown, there was my husband awkwardly reaching out with his one good arm. “I would hug you if I could,” he deadpanned. And then we both laughed hysterically and took a moment to drink in a blessed moment we knew we’d remember forever.

Within days, I accepted one of the amazing book deal offers and learned that my manuscript would be on a fast track to be published. This meant an exorbitant amount of writing, editing, and polishing would be required of me in one month’s time. I looked at my husband who was becoming quite skilled at balancing ice packs on his right shoulder and tearfully said, “I don’t know if I can do this.”

With enough conviction for the both of us, my husband said, “Yes, you can. This is your dream, and I will help you.”

Help me? Seriously? I wanted to kindly point out that in his current condition he couldn’t even open a jar of peanut butter or put on his own deodorant, but instead I bit my tongue and held on to faith. After all, faith had gotten me this far.

After my husband and I shared the incredible book news with my two biggest pint-sized fans, my husband told them what we would need to do as a family in order for me to meet my deadline. The girls excitedly agreed to do their part. Everyone was on board to see the Hands Free Mama book come to fruition.

But I was unsettled. I knew this because when I am unsettled troubling scenarios play out in my dreams.

But this time it was only one troubling scenario over and over. And it was horrific.

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How to See Better Days

how to see better days #handsfreemama.com

It had been a long summer. Three whole months of constant togetherness were clearly wearing on us all—and it wasn’t over yet. Luckily, my children’s end-of-the-summer sports camp came at the precise moment a reprieve was desperately needed.

After checking in with the camp counselors, my daughters and I said our loving goodbyes, but truthfully, I was eager to break free. At this point, having my own thoughts without interruption and being responsible for only myself for a few hours nearly sounded like a tropical vacation.

After working on a few articles that were soon due, I made an effort to clear a path through the house. And when I did, I couldn’t help but notice the trails left by my children. You know, Kid Evidence. I noticed the way my younger daughter had carefully arranged the shoes in her makeshift dollhouse … the way her ukulele pick was placed right where she could find it … the way she gingerly set her glasses back on the second shelf when she came home from the movie. And among the disarray in my older daughter’s room, there was a notebook tossed on the floor open to a pretty decent drawing of her beloved cat, Banjo.

I hadn’t noticed these things earlier.

Because when the kids are underfoot, these tender, little details tend to disappear.

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School Year Hopes

school year hopes #handsfreemama

This summer I spent a lot of time loving my children “as is.” No comparisons to their peers; no thoughts of what skills they need to have mastered by a certain date; no worries for problems they may never encounter—just loving them right where they are now, today.

But here we are, the second day of school, and I can already feel the pressure mounting—pressure to prepare for tomorrow, next month, next year, and so on.

Please don’t get me wrong; I know it’s important for children to be prepared for tomorrow’s spelling test, next week’s music recital, next month’s big game, and next year’s grade level assessment. These things matter—they do. But I am guilty of letting these future events matter more than what really matters now.

Today. Today really matters.

Today is all we know for sure that we really have.

My greatest hope for this school year is to remember how important … and how promising … today is.

Tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year all have pressures attached to them. Trying to prepare for things unknown and lofty goals can be downright overwhelming and daunting.

But today is different.

Today is doable. It’s manageable. It’s standing right in front of us requiring no plan whatsoever, just waiting to be grasped. It’s exactly why people often suggest taking one day at a time.

But in this fast-paced, task-driven, achievement-oriented world, it’s easy to forget that lovely little notion: One day at a time.

So I’ve been thinking. What might the school year look like if I try to focus a little less on tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year and focus a little more on today?

I don’t know, but I am going to try. So of course, I’m starting today with a few small efforts. And whether I do just one of them, three of them, or most of them, I can’t help but believe such efforts have the potential to bring a little more peace, a little more joy, a little more love, and a little less pressure to my family’s life today.

So here they are, my school year hopes for my children today

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The Day I Stopped Saying ‘Hurry Up’

 

stopped saying 'hurry up' #handsfreemama

When you’re living a distracted life, every minute must be accounted for. You feel like you must be checking something off the list, staring at a screen, or rushing off to the next destination. And no matter how many ways you divide your time and attention, no matter how many duties you try and multi-task, there’s never enough time in a day to ever catch up.

That was my life for two frantic years. My thoughts and actions were controlled by electronic notifications, ring tones, and jam-packed agendas. And although every fiber of my inner drill sergeant wanted to be on time to every activity on my overcommitted schedule, I wasn’t.

You see, six years ago I was blessed with a laid-back, carefree, stop-and-smell-the roses type of child.

When I needed to be out the door, she was taking her sweet time picking out a purse and a glittery crown.

When I needed to be somewhere five minutes ago, she insisted on buckling her stuffed animal into a car seat.

When I needed to grab a quick lunch at Subway, she’d stop to speak to the elderly woman who looked like her grandma.

When I had thirty minutes to get in a run, she wanted me to stop the stroller and pet every dog we passed.

When I had a full agenda that started at 6 a.m., she asked to crack the eggs and stir them ever so gently.

stopped saying 'hurry up' #handsfreemama

My carefree child was a gift to my Type A, task-driven nature—but I didn’t see it. Oh no, when you live life distracted, you have tunnel vision—only looking ahead to what’s next on the agenda. And anything that cannot be checked off the list is a waste of time.

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A Target for Life

A Target for Life

I reached into her pajamas drawer unconsciously grabbing the worn polka-dotted flannel that felt like home in my hand.

“Those don’t fit me anymore, Mama,” my 6-year-old daughter informed ever so gently, as if somehow knowing those words could literally break my heart.

“Are you sure they don’t fit?” I asked with a hint of desperation in my voice. “Could we just see?” I already had the head opening of the pajamas prepped and ready for her curly head of hair.

My easy-going child shrugged and happily pulled the pajamas over her head to appease me. But as she struggled to stuff her 6-year-old arms into size 4 armholes, we began to laugh.

“Okay, you were right, “I grinned. But honestly, I wanted to cry.

“I know you love my panda ‘jams, Mama,” my child consoled. Oh yes. That little girl has always been an observant one. “But instead of putting them back in my drawer, maybe you could keep them in a safe place.”

It was my daughter’s nice way of telling me to stop putting them back in her drawer. And as much as I hated to admit it, she was right; it was time to retire the panda pajamas. But I certainly wouldn’t be stuffing them into a donation bag with other outgrown clothes.  You see, the panda was my target when I really, really needed a target. It was my target for letting to go to live. It was my target for a Hands Free life.

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