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

On very rare occasions, I find myself alone in the car with my six-year-old daughter. When I do, I try to stay extra quiet to see what gems my Noticer of Life child might feel like spilling out to the headrest in front of her.

On this particular day, we’d just dropped off her playmate. The setting sun was illuminating her tangled curls and freckled face as she gazed out the window with sleepy eyes.

Suddenly she perked up. “Could you play, ‘Daylight’ by Maroon 5?” she asked, sounding more like a sixteen-year-old than a six-year-old. “It’s my favorite song,” she added as if she knew her request might require some explanation.

She was right. Coming from her, it did strike me as an odd song request. For the past three years, my cheerful, little ukulele player had strummed and sang her way through the likes of Taylor Swift, Martina McBride, and Carly Rae Jepsen. Romantic ballads by heavily tattooed rock stars had never once come from this southern girl’s lips.

ukulele

But I pushed ‘play’ on “Daylight,” and ever since then, I have been able to breathe easier, even on the most challenging days as a parent.

You see, as Adam Levine belted out the following lyrics in his signature falsetto, my daughter’s face turned wistful, almost sad:

“And when the daylight comes, I’ll have to go
But tonight I’m gonna hold you so close.
Cause in the daylight, we’ll be on our own,
But tonight I need to hold you so close.”

My child noticed me watching her in the rearview mirror. As we locked eyes, it was solemnly revealed why this particular song was her favorite. “That song is about morning when I have to go to school,” she said pushing up her little eyeglasses so they sat squarely on her face. “I don’t like morning to come. I like night when you hold me in your arms.”

For a moment, I couldn’t speak. My child’s interpretation of this blatantly obvious love song surprised me. How could she get that meaning from those lyrics? I thought. But then I reminded myself that children make sense of the world using their experiences as a frame of reference. In that respect, her lyrical interpretation of “Daylight” made perfect sense.

The reason this song wasn’t about two lovers parting at daybreak was because my child hadn’t experienced that. But she did know what it felt like to be so safe and secure in someone’s arms that she never wanted to leave.

And that’s when it hit me.

Warm, cleansing tears dripped down my face as a profound sense of peace came over me.

For the first time in a long time, I felt I’d done something right along this parenting journey. The nightly tuck-in had become my child’s frame of reference.

It was the one thing I managed to do consistently for all six years of her life …

Through the baby years when piercing screams of colic, cutting teeth, sleep deprivation, and sibling jealousy hallowed me until I was empty … I still managed to hold her every night despite my exhaustion.

Through the toddler years when pajamas were itchy, getting out of bed was her fulltime job, and lost stuffed animals ensued atomic meltdowns … I still managed to smooth her hair every night despite my frustration.

Through her preschool years when I was present, but absent, focusing too much on electronic screens, to-do lists, and keeping up the façade of a perfect life … I still managed to kiss her face every night despite my maxed-out existence.

Through the daily struggles of life, I managed to reach my child’s bedside. For a few minutes each night, I’d hold her and say, “I love you,” so those could be the last words she heard, even if I failed to say them in syllables or actions during day.

facing fears handsfree mama

And through a catchy pop song on a Sunday afternoon drive, I learned this nightly ritual mattered; it mattered a lot. It was a beacon of light in a sea of failings, and I intended to grasp it.

Because let’s face it. We need this validation. We need to know we’re doing something right. We need to know things are going to turn out okay despite it all. We need to know love prevails over failures, flaws, and imperfect days.

Because sometimes the “experts,” the well-meaning friends, the sweet ladies behind us in the checkout line, and the critics inside our head suggest otherwise, making us feel like there is more to it than just loving them.

But then you attend an end-of-the-year school program. You see a child on stage scanning the crowd with eager, almost frantic, eyes. Then suddenly, her eyes stop. As she enthusiastically waves at a focal point in the crowd, a visible sigh of relief comes from her small chest. If you follow her gaze to see what brought her such great comfort, you will see love etched across the face of the person who met her gaze. That child found her reference point, her source of comfort, her go-to place in times of uncertainty and doubt—and it made all the difference.

I don’t care what anybody says. It’s the love that sustains them.

Whether she’s walking out on stage or out of a bad relationship …

Whether he’s stepping into kindergarten or into battle …

Whether he’s taking an honest look inward or a stand for what he believes in …

Whether she’s reaching up to grab her dream or reaching down to help the fallen …

When faced with the fears, uncertainties, and worries of life, our loved ones need a reference point—a place in their minds and hearts where they feel loved and safe. And we can provide that. My friends, we can provide that.

DSC_0633

So let’s not worry about doing all the things right in this lifetime; let’s just focus on doing one thing right in this day: a little love today.

Love them as they walk out the door.

Love them when they come home.

Love them when they mess up.

Love them when they succeed … soar … shine.

Love them when they’re scared.

Love them when they’re brave.

Love them as they pull away.

Love them as they cling with all their might.

Love them when they’re hard to love.

Love them when they’re utterly irresistible.

Choose love for your precious ones as much as you humanly can. May it become their reference point in a harsh world, like the lyrics to their favorite song that never quite leave their head or their heart.

Never stop doing #HFM
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My friends of the Hands Free Revolution, thank you for the incredible support you provide my family & me each week. My daughter was thrilled that so many of you watched her “Fight Song” Youtube video and left such affirming comments on our community’s page. When I asked for all the details about the talent show on Tuesday, she said everyone clapped “really hard” and a boy came up to her and said, “Dude, you are like the next Taylor Swift … no, the next Ellie Goulding … no, the next Adele.” She was literally glowing! That sweet boy made her day and so did all of you!

Denver friends, I am still feeling the love you bestowed on me when I took the stage last Saturday. I am still crying from the standing ovation you gave me. I am still inspired by the scars you revealed when I met you in line. I was 1400 miles from home, yet you made me feel like I was home. Your timing was perfect as I’m currently working through the first round edits on my forthcoming book, ONLY LOVE TODAY. You have fueled me during this grueling process. Since many of you have inquired about me speaking in your cities, I thought I would clarify that I do not plan these events. I simply go where I am invited if the details align. The best way to get me to your city is to recommend me to a school, organization, company, or church that is looking for a speaker. They can fill out this speaking request form on my contact page, and I will be in touch. 

Thank you, dear ones, for being my writing fuel and my daily blessing. I love you dearly.

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

 DSC_0643

“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.”

[Read more…]

Here, You Can Breathe … Here, You Are Enough

DSC_0091

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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The Vacation Moments of Everyday Life You Might Be Missing

what is necessary #HFM

I didn’t realize how poorly I’d been sleeping.

I didn’t realize how long that medical test kit had been sitting on my dresser waiting for my attention.

I didn’t realize how tight my shoulders were or how dark the circles under my eyes had become.

I didn’t realize how much I’d missed the sound of certain people’s voices, as texting had become my usual mode of communication.

I didn’t realize how much I needed to immerse myself in silence …

Until I did.

Today I come off a two-week blogging break. It was a terrible time to go quiet. My new book was just picked up by Target. It was being “tested” in stores nationwide to see how well it did last week. When I should have been tweeting, posting, and encouraging people to buy my book, I was getting my nails done by a 9-year-old with little manicure experience and carving scary faces on pumpkins.

what is necessary #HFM

what is necessary #HFM

My book had just gained serious momentum, I knew going quiet—no interviews, no viral posts, no podcasts, and no email—would certainly not keep things going. Going quiet meant the glorious momentum would drop off. I could have pushed myself. After all, I have an impressive track record when it comes to powering through the exhaustion … ignoring the warning signs of burnout … and making excuses as to why I cannot slow down. “Someday, I’ll have time to do that, ” slides off my lips quite well—at least it used to.

But ‘someday’ is nowhere to live your life. This I have learned.

[Read more…]

An Open Window to a Bravely Lived Life

windows #HFM
“Let your words be anything but empty
Why don’t you tell them the truth?
Say what you wanna say,
And let the words fall out.
Honestly, I wanna see you be brave.”
–Sara Bareilles

It was late, but for some reason I decided to clean the pantry. A friend had been weighing on my heart. I picked up the phone and called her while I arranged cans of beans and tossed near-empty boxes of old pasta.

It quickly became apparent why I’d called her. She was experiencing some tough revelations. Was it a mid-life crisis? She wondered out loud. “You’re going to hate me when I tell you my truths,” she said.

I assured her that nothing she could say or do would change my love and respect for her.

“You are kind, compassionate—you are a good person. Nothing you say will change that,” I said.

My friend took a deep breath and shared thoughts, feelings, and questions that were hard to admit to herself, let alone speak out loud. But she said no truth that any one of us hasn’t had or could have at some point in our lives. She was just brave enough to admit it.

“Do you hate me? You probably aren’t going to talk to me anymore,” she said worriedly. I could practically see her cringing through the phone.

“My opinion of you has not changed. I love you. I am here to support you as you try to figure out exactly who you are and what you need to be the truest and happiest version of yourself,” I said confidently. “It would make me sad if you were to live an unauthentic life for the next 40 years,” I added.

Unbeknownst to me, my 12-year-old daughter had come up from watching a football game with her dad. She’d been listening with open ears and wide eyes. This is my wise-beyond-her-years child. She is my question asker … my leave-no-stone-unturned child … the one who’s been drawn to the world’s sufferings since age three. I predicted the questions would be coming.

“Is everything okay?” she asked as soon as I said goodbye to my friend.

“Well, my friend suffered a lot of trauma in her childhood and now she is dealing with a lot of things she has not allowed herself to deal with. She is trying to figure who she really us—not who the world expects her to be. And she chose me to share her truths,” I explained.

“And she was afraid you wouldn’t like her anymore—the real her?” she asked, following along quite maturely.

That’s when I knew. I knew I was being given a beautiful opportunity right then and there. With my pantry in disarray and this brown-eyed beauty donned in her Indianapolis Colts jersey staring back at me, I had the chance to highlight this moment in time. What I was about to say would be stored away in this child’s mind for years, maybe decades, and referred to often. I chose my words carefully.

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Break This Morning Habit to Create More Time & Goodness in Your Day

morning ritual #HFM

If mornings are the toughest part of the day … if you feel agitated before you even get out the door … if you’ve had a heavy heart and can’t explain why, I am going to encourage you to make one small change in your morning routine: Resist the urge to reach for the phone.

Starting your day by checking the phone is like flipping a switch from peace to productivity … from loving nurturer to grumpy manager … from present to absent. Reaching for the phone takes you out of your cozy pajamas-clad world and catapults you into the fast-paced, information overloaded world. Once your mind leaves your loved ones and fixates on all the things you need to do, it’s hard to come back—so hard to come back. Scrolling, clicking, and responding sneakily rob you of the precious minutes you need to get out the door on time—and then everyone is yelling. I know these things because checking the phone was how I began my day—or perhaps I should say sabotaged my day—for several years.

Things are different now. And I attribute an overall improvement in my home environment and personal wellbeing to one small change: Reaching for meaningful things rather than the phone to start my day.

[Read more…]

Reaching Your Child In a World of Distraction

park connection 2At my very first Hands Free speaking engagement several years ago, a woman in attendance said her children were getting to the age where they just wanted to do their own thing. She felt that the older her children grew, the more difficult it was to find shared interests and spend time together.

Honestly, I didn’t know what to say. This concept of one’s children not being permanently attached to one’s side seemed completely foreign to me. I simply did not believe the day would come when I could use the restroom without a voyeur. I could not fathom the thought that my younger child would one day resign from her duties as my fulltime bodyguard and actually let me out of her sight.

But here I am several years later and it’s happened. My daughters love to play together. And I am no longer needed nor invited. They set up the Barbie house and play for hours without any need for my creative storylines and juicy plot twists. They play school and inform me I am over the age limit to be a student. And when they log on to animaljam.com and starting talking gems, avatars, and dens, I might as well be invisible.

But I am all about being real in this space I call “Hands Free Mama,” so here’s some realness: When my kids are in their own little world, it’s quite tempting to go into mine. It’s tempting to pop open the laptop and knock out another chapter in my book, draft a new blog post, or even just pick up a delicious book I have been dying to read. While there is nothing wrong with any of these activities, nor is there anything wrong with my children playing by themselves, I can see how easy it would be to allow separate lives to become a way of life. I can see how easily the space between us could grow until the gap is so wide we can no longer reach one another.

What motivates me to get up from my keyboard and participate, even just as an observer in my children’s preferred activities, is the whole reason I started this Hands Free journey in the first place. I don’t want to look up at my children’s high school graduation ceremony and see a stranger walking across the stage.

[Read more…]