Your Role in a Loved One’s Struggle


“Oh, why you look so sad?
Tears are in your eyes
Come on and come to me now.
Don’t be ashamed to cry
Let me see you through
’cause I’ve seen the dark side too.”
–The Pretenders

When we moved to a new state almost two years ago, I knew there would be challenging moments for my daughters, then eleven and eight years old. We’d gone from a school where they knew everyone to a school where they knew no one. Even swim team, which my older daughter excelled in for many years, was drastically different. She went from a family-friendly year-round program at the YMCA to a large, competitive program with the area’s most elite swimmers. I can vividly recall two moments during the first year in our new state when I saw my older daughter’s pain and wanted to spare her from it.

The first moment was when her beloved teacher abruptly left the classroom one day and never came back. For personal reasons, the teacher was not able to say goodbye to the students. I can still hear my daughter’s guttural cries wondering why her teacher left them.

The second moment was in the final championship of a divisional swim meet. Earlier that day, my daughter missed the cut off for finals by one spot in the 50-meter breaststroke event. We were informed that she could come back that evening as an alternate. This meant she’d warm up as if she was going to swim and report to the starting blocks when her event was called. When the first whistle sounded, she would quickly scan the blocks. If a block was empty, she was to quickly jump up on the block and swim the race.

Just the thought of this agonizing process made my palms sweat! As a cautious planner with the tendency to worry, I was surprised my daughter wanted to put herself in such an unpredictable situation. But she did. I’ll never forget standing next to her as her eyes frantically scanned the blocks, her hands clasped nervously in hopes of there being an empty spot.

When there wasn’t, I saw her shoulders fall. Her eyelids blinked in rapid succession as she fought back tears of disappointment.
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Cleaning Up the Heart Break

"In some families, please is described as the magic word. In our house, however, it was sorry." ~Margaret Laurence

“In some families, please is described as the magic word. In our house, however, it was sorry.” ~Margaret Laurence

We were on our way out the door, which has always been a little stressful since having children. There’s just something about making ourselves and our kids look presentable—all at the same time—that causes tensions to run high.

On this particular evening, I’d actually put on something other than my typical Writer’s Uniform—meaning I was not wearing anything made out of Dri-fit fabric and my hair was not in a ponytail. We were finally experiencing fall-like temperatures in the South, so it was cool enough for jeans, a sweater, and boots.

I was actually feeling pretty good at this departure. My kids were in Dri-fit material from head to toe, but their hair was combed so we were good to go.

My older daughter decided to use the restroom one last time before we headed out to meet friends. That’s when I heard: “Mom, the toilet is clogged!”

I quickly ran to assess the situation desperately hoping she was mistaken since The Official Toilet Plunger of the family (my husband) wasn’t home.

Much to my dismay, my daughter’s assessment was accurate. Someone had used the bathroom and apparently it required an entire roll of toilet paper to do the job. The muddy water was scarily close to the top of the bowl.

Although it was tempting to get upset, I swallowed an “are you serious?” and stifled an exasperated sigh. I didn’t even ask, “Which one of you did this?” although I had my suspicions based on the fact that Little Sister was now cautiously peering from around corner.

With clenched teeth I said, “I’ll get the plunger.”

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How Do You Go Hands Free?

What does Hands Free look like to you? I am grateful to the many people who have shared their stories so this post could be made possible!

When I began my Hands Free journey a little over one year ago, I started alone. I was three months into it when I realized the transformation occurring in my life was too good to keep to myself.

So on December 13, 2010, I posted my first Hands Free Mama blog entry and invited the world to join me on this journey to grasp what really matters.

I have mentioned several times how grateful I am for your company. I have mentioned it publically in posts like “Within Reach,” “Did You Get The Memo?” and “How Kind of You To Notice.” I have also expressed my appreciation for your partnership in the Hands Free journey through personal email correspondences with my readers.

But today I am going to show you how much I love having you on this journey. I want you to see exactly why I love having you by my side in this battle against distraction.

Why is this important?

Because it is your Hands Free story that keeps me going on the days I fail miserably at grasping what matters. Yet, it is also your story that keeps me going on the days I succeed at grasping what matters.

While you anxiously await my successes, celebrate them, and even implement them into your own life, you graciously allow me to reveal my failures, learn from them and move on.

Your story keeps me going during the low times, the high times, and the times in between.

It is your story that keeps me going.

Therefore, I am compelled to share your story. Because your story is worthy of sharing, just like mine is. In fact, I find it quite beneficial to see what Hands Free looks like, not just in my life, but in the lives of my readers, ordinary people creating extraordinary moments by letting go to grasp what matters.

I have used the format “You know you’re living Hands Free when…” to present your stories because I think that is exactly how living Hands Free feels. It sneaks up on you unexpectedly and causes you to say and do things you didn’t say or do before.

The difference in living Hands Free and not living Hands Free is in the choices we make about how we are going to spend our precious time. Your Hands Free stories illustrate that point so beautifully.

Perhaps someone’s story will resonate with you, inspire you, or like me, motivate you to keep you going on your own journey to grasp what really matters.

Here are YOUR Hands Free stories …

You know you’re living Hands Free when…

you begin singing a medley of Broadway tunes, Christmas songs, and lullabies to your over-tired and cranky six-year-old only to find that you quite enjoy this moment of tranquility and continue singing softly in the dark long after he falls asleep.

You Know You’re Living Hands Free When…

you finally realize how many times a day you tell your children to “hurry up,” and decide you not only need to stop saying it, you need to stop living it.

You know you’re living Hands Free when…

your children hug you and you find yourself holding on a bit tighter and a bit longer than you did before.

You know you’re living Hands Free when…

you reluctantly step in to help your son practice kicking field goals and when it’s over, you are surprisingly declared “Best Field Goal Kicker Mom” on your street.

You know you’re living Hands Free when…

your daughter is home sick from school and instead of completing all the things you need to do, you sit with her and watch an episode of “Hannah Montana” that you both have seen a hundred times.

You know you’re living Hands Free when…

you submerge yourself in the community pool (hair and all), and while playing in the water with your kids, your daughter wraps her arms around you and says, “Isn’t it great being with your kids?”

You know you’re living Hands Free when…

you are frantically packing for your trip to California when you suddenly stop what you are doing, take a deep breath, and pick up the Bible because your eight-year-old son meekly asked, “Will you read to me, Mom?”

You know you’re living Hands Free when…

you interpret the shattering of your computer screen by your son’s flying flashlight as a wake up call, a second chance at living Hands Free, and begin limiting the time you spend on your computer to when he is at school or asleep.

You know you’re living Hands Free when…

you request that your employees place all electronic devices in a designated bucket as they enter meetings and conferences. Instead of giving you flack, some of them actually thank you.

You know you’re living Hands Free when…

you tell your seven-year-old son there will not be a story at bedtime tonight and as your tired body descends the staircase, you mumble a four-letter-word directed at Hands Free Mama, turn back around and say, “OK, but YOU have to tell ME the story.”

You know you’re living Hands Free when…

you bake cakes with your three small children and for the first time ever, you allow them to break their own eggs and put as many sprinkles on their cake as they want without using the word “germs” or “mess” even one time.

You know you’re living Hands Free when…

the sign your daughter made for your computer that says, “Do not use until you cuddle,” is no longer needed.

You know you’re living Hands Free when…

you hear joyful commotion in the background when you call your husband who is at home with the kids. He says, “I decided to blow off my to-do-list and go Hands Free; the kids and I are playing football.”

You know you’re living Hands Free when…

you witness your son’s triple play, the congratulatory words from the opposing team’s coach, and exchange smiles with your son from across the field while painfully realizing distraction could have easily robbed your son of his mother’s presence in that unforgettable moment.

You know you’re living Hands Free when…

you forget your iPad on vacation and instead of having a panic attack, you see it as a sign, a blessing, and an opportunity to connect with your family.

You know you’re living Hands Free when…

You send your spouse the link to “Joined In Silence,” and ask if you can discuss it tonight when you get home. It then leads to a fruitful discussion about ways you can help each other limit distraction and deepen personal connection.

You know you’re living Hands Free when…

your husband agrees to go to yoga with you and accidently forgets his phone, resulting in the most connected sixty minutes the two of you have shared in a long time; you vow to forget the phone more often.

You know you’re living Hands Free when…

you get up early and throw on a hat, fully intending to fix your hair after the morning activities, but it doesn’t happen because you’re too busy playing and having fun; you decide you’ll be wearing your hat more often.

You know you’re living Hands Free when…

your brother-in-law won’t get in the pool with the rest of the family and before you can stop yourself, you quote a line from your favorite post, “Fully Submerged,” by saying, “You are witnessing a moment in time that will never occur exactly this way ever again. And there is only one thing missing from it.”

You know you’re living Hands Free when…

you are pushing the kids in the double stroller as they watch movies on their iPods. Suddenly you announce it’s time to “turn off, get out, and collect!” Everyone comes home with the most beautiful collection of rocks, leaves, flowers and memories.

You know you’re living Hands Free when…

you realize how critical the “hellos” and “goodbyes” truly are and make a commitment to stay off the phone when picking up or dropping off your children.

You know you’re living Hands Free when…

your afterschool coaching duties are unexpectedly canceled. You excitedly anticipate all the things you are going to get accomplished at home when your son asks, “Will you play Pick Up Sticks with me?” You decide the chores can wait.

You know you’re living Hands Free when…

you read Hands Free Mama posts like “Tipping The Scales” and “The Girl With The Broken Smile” to your children at bedtime.

You know you’re living Hands Free when…

you announce to your regular walking partners that you will no longer be taking your cell phone on your weekly jaunts so you can devote your entire focus to them.

You know you’re living Hands Free when…

you no longer view the handprints on your glass door (which belong to your grandchildren) as something that needs to be wiped off.

You know you’re living Hands Free when…

you enact “Wireless Wednesdays” at your home where all adults and children refrain from using all electronics and instead connect with one another.

You know you’re living Hands Free when…

you decide that seventy-two years is long enough to beat yourself up over your weight and decide love and acceptance towards your body is how you want to live the precious days that remain.

And finally…

You know you’re living Hands Free when …

you begin viewing life as a million little “Sunset Moments” and you decide you aren’t going to miss anymore.


What’s your Hands Free story? If you have one, you know I’d love to hear about it. Simply use the “contact me” button at the top of the website or post a note in the comment section. If you don’t have a Hands Free story yet, you know what to do. All it takes is pushing away (or turning off) distraction and choosing to grasp what matters.

Thank you to each and every individual who has ever shared a Hands Free story with me. Not only did you take the time to grasp what mattered with someone you love, you took time to encourage others by sharing it.

Keep sending me those emails, commenting on my blog, and even stopping me in the grocery store parking lot to tell your stories. When someone shares his or her struggles or triumphs, it fuels me in such a powerful way to continue sharing my own.

Did You Get The Memo?

The readers of this blog have been doing something I wasn’t expecting.

But as I have discovered on this journey, the most meaningful things come unplanned; the most powerful things come unexpectedly.

This is YOUR story…

A few weeks ago I learned that my blog was brought up during a business meeting.

Apparently someone mentioned being overwhelmed by commitments, communication overload, and the inability to enjoy their family time.

“Have any of you read Hands Free Mama?” One of my readers asked the group.

When they shook their heads no, she immediately went to a computer and pulled up the blog entry entitled, “Dear Distracted Dad.”

She printed it, copied it, and distributed it to the curious group.

Once everyone read the entry, she said, “Now let me tell you my story.”

This is what she said:

When my son asked me to go on his field trip, I had no intention of taking an entire day off to spend thirteen hours on a field trip. But he was very persistent, and I finally gave in. This post, “Dear Distracted Dad,” deeply resonated with me when I initially read it. I saw myself in him! So I knew what I had to do. I took the day off, told my assistant not to call me unless it was a real emergency, and left my phone in the car for the entire day.

My son quickly realized that I didn’t have my Blackberry.  He commented that he couldn’t believe I wasn’t on my phone, and then he actually thanked me. That is when I realized how critical it was that I went on this trip and more importantly, that I truly spent the day with HIM.

This person did not have to share her story with the group, but she did. Why? Because the simple act of putting away her phone for the day made a profound impact on her child. And once you feel the powerful connection created by being Hands Free, you want others to feel it, too.

When you cross over into the joy that is Hands Free, you want others to come with you. It happens to me every day. And it’s happening to you.

A day later, I received this message from a reader:

I was driving home from my mom’s house the other day when I saw a beautiful little girl jumping on a trampoline in her back yard. She had the most beautiful curly blonde hair. I had to stop my car for a few moments just to watch her. She was in complete bliss – bouncing up and down on her trampoline with her curls just flying wildly. It made me happy to see that much “pure” happiness in her.

I was hoping that her mother was standing in her kitchen… looking out the window at her lovely, happy child in the backyard.

Just in case she wasn’t… I pulled around to the front of the house and left one of my business cards tucked under the “flag” on her mailbox. I wrote on the back in big red letters.

I hope the next time I drive past their house that I see both of them jumping on the trampoline.

This reader did not have to leave my website address on that mailbox, but she did. Why? Because her eyes have been opened to the beauty found in the simple, every day moments, like pure elation on a child’s face. And she realizes these moments must be savored before they are gone, never be retrieved again. And once that realization happens to you, you want others to have it, too.

When you cross over into the joy that is Hands Free, you want others to come with you. It happens to me every day. And it’s happening to you.

One of my readers tried to describe the Hands Free concept to her retired father, but she could only cry. Through her tears, she said, “Could you imagine what it would mean if we could really live like this?”

Her father’s profound, yet disturbing, response was this: “Your generation has reached a true crossroads in the Information Age. The pace of progress has dismembered us as humans.  Our ability to connect with people is withering.  We long for this calm presence of mind that we must willfully work to get.”

When I initially read his comment, I was speechless. I felt overwhelming sadness and despair. I couldn’t take my eyes off the word “dismembered.”

Helpless thoughts filled my head and weighed heavy on my heart. We have lost control of our lives; it is too late for us.  The warp speed pace we keep, our tightly packed schedules, and our obsession with technology is the norm now; we are too far-gone to come back.

But then like a tiny beacon of hope, I thought of the woman who passed out my blog entry at the business meeting. I thought of the woman who left my website address on the mailbox. I thought of the way my inbox fills with messages like, “Please keep writing!” and “Thank you for changing my life. Someday my children will thank you, too.”

And that is when I realized there is hope for our generation and hope for the children of our generation.

Being Hands Free is not just what I want. Others are longing to hear this message, too. And once they do, they hold on to it just long enough to feel its impact, and then they graciously pass it on to someone else.

In your hands, the message to grasp what really matters is multiplied…

If you have ever clicked the “share” button,

If you have ever forwarded one of my posts via email,

If you have ever posted my website on your Facebook page,

If you have ever written about Hands Free Mama on your own blog,

If you have ever “tweeted” one of my posts via Twitter,

If you have ever told someone to check out my website, you are the reason…

You are the reason that a child was the focus of dinner conversation instead of the screen of a Blackberry.

You are the reason that a child was tucked into bed with a story and “Talk Time” instead of being rushed away.

You are the reason that someone talked to her child in the car instead of talking on the phone.

You are the reason a family drew closer, a couple reconnected, a grandparent was listened to, and a mail carrier was blessed.

You are the reason that instead of continuing to be dismembered, fractured, incomplete, distracted, unfocused, and disconnected, someone is starting to become peacefully whole.

Like me, you have discovered the joy found in living Hands Free is too good to keep to yourself. Like me, you want to live in a world where grasping what matters is more important than holding tightly to perfection, distraction, and the insignificant.

I didn’t expect to have so much company on my journey to go Hands Free. But now, I can’t imagine walking this path alone.

In your hands, this message has a chance to alter life as we know it.

And I see something peaceful, something real, something stunningly beautiful just upon the horizon.

And I know you see it, too.


Memorial Day weekend is just around the corner. Make it a weekend worth remembering!  Choose one idea from this list of Hands Free tactics and do it this weekend. Now spread the love of The Hands Free Revolution by clicking the “share” button below and let someone else know about the joy found in living a Hands Free life!

The life-changing possibilities of these two actions are endless. What a gift you hold in your hands. Thank you for being a part of the The Hands Free Revolution!

The Steps of A Hero

I have had the privilege to witness the Hands Free transformation of one of my readers, an investment banker working in New York City.

Every time I see message in my inbox from my long distance partner in this Hands Free journey, I look forward to reading the latest developments in his personal quest to grasp what really matters.

It began with a message three months ago. He described the cutthroat environment in which he worked. He described the permeating greed that both motivated and destroyed. He described the cost of working long hours to those he held dear. He spoke of the absence of pure and simple respect and human kindness in the world around him.

And when he wrote to me he said, “I am not sure why I am writing you all of this.”

But I knew why.

Although he was technically writing to me, the message he wrote was to himself.

I know this because last July, during my Breakthrough Breakdown moment, I stood where he stood…

It is the moment you realize what you once thought was important is not.

It is the moment you understand what mattered before does not matter now.

It is the moment you begin to see the truth so clearly that it can no longer be denied.

It is the moment you begin to see that living the way you’re living now is not the way you want to live anymore.

And then either you decide it takes too much effort to change what you have been doing for so long. Or you decide enough is enough, and you begin to make changes.

Which is exactly what my friend did.

Since that first email message he sent to me, I am thrilled to report…

-He went on a three-day vacation without his two Blackberries and phone for the first time in three years.

He came to the defense of his colleague after he was blatantly disrespected and mistreated by their boss.

-He offered his employees time off so they could attend special family occasions, like birthdays and graduations. (After years of being expected to simply miss them due to work.)

– He took his son to the library to see what the infamous literary character “Froggy” was all about.

And the latest from the man who worked seven days a week for most of his adult life? Well, I will let you read it for yourself:

“I no longer work on Sundays.  I only work on Sunday night after everyone is asleep. I started a “Breakfast with Owen” on Sunday. Today we went to Whole Foods and the hot bar. Next Sunday, we are going to the local diner. And then the local IHOP after that.”

The pictures he included of himself with his adorable little son on a few of their adventures brought tears to my eyes…happy tears, of course.

I was amazed at how far my friend had come on his Hands Free journey in such a short time. Yet the words he used to describe his latest Hands Free actions were “little steps.”

From where I stand, I don’t see little steps. I see his accomplishments as huge, monumental, life-altering steps. I wonder if his wife and sweet baby boy might feel the same.

However, I find myself clinging to the term “baby steps.”  I love the fact that “baby steps” or “little steps” implies my friend is working toward a goal. He might not know what that goal is, but he wants to keep growing toward something more.

What is equally as important is the fact that it most often requires “little steps” to reach a goal. After all, when you have been living much of your adult life holding on tightly to “distraction, “ it is naturally going to take time (and baby steps) to let go of those detrimental habits.

And what stands out above it all is the fact that he took those first steps. We all know the first steps are often the hardest.

I recently told him he was my hero. He refuted and told me I was his hero.

But I will tell you why he is my hero and could possibly be yours.

This man gives people like me hope. If HE can take steps to live a Hands Free life…this man who works in a cutthroat, money hungry industry for a quick-tempered boss in one of the fastest paced cities in the world, then so can I.

Although he and I are different in many ways and live thousands of miles apart, we use the same Hands Free tactics to “let go” of distraction in our daily lives. And through these tactics we have both experienced beautiful, life-changing results.

What this means is grasping what matters is a universal desire. Letting go of distraction is a goal many of us want to reach in our time here on this earth.

Whether we put on a suit to go to work or rarely get a shower before the day is over, whether we go all day giving sales pitches or avoiding those who pitch a fit, whether we get paid for our work in dollars or paid in hugs, we all share the same realization. We realize time is fleeting. We realize there are no guarantees in life. We realize there is no certainty that tomorrow will even come. And because of this realization we know we better grasp what really matters while we can, in order to witness all the “Sunset Moments” happening around us before they are gone forever.

And we are learning that in order to fully grasp something with our heart and hands, we must first let go. Letting go of distraction begins with baby steps. Baby steps, my friends.

And no matter where you come from or where you have been, we all have it in us to take our first step.

Think about you how you are living your life. Do you hold on to distraction more tightly than you grasp what really matters? Does the daily distraction in your life cause you to miss moments that you won’t be able to get back? Do you have a desire to take your first (or maybe your second, third or fourth) step into a Hands Free life? Feel free to use the “contact me” button and write down your thoughts. It might just become the Breakdown Breakthrough moment that will begin your journey. Then tune in tomorrow. A list of Hands Free Baby Steps will be awaiting your arrival.

Reach Out Reach Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

You told me the cancer has spread.

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

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

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

You told me your worries rob you of sleep.

You told me your childhood was painful.

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

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

You told me you want to be a better mom.

You told me you want to be a better dad.

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

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

And I don’t take that request lightly.

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

Here is my story…

*Permission granted to use authentic names

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then you know the story of Doodle.

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

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

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

Reach out. Reach up. Ask for help.

Ask so loudly that the angels can hear your voice.

Miracles happen. They really do.

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

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

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

Someone Will Notice

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

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

This is what she wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Have Noticed: The Inner Dialogue of A Child

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I have noticed that it is not.

The center of your universe is not me.

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

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

Regardless of how beautifully I draw or dance for you,

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

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

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

To be the center of your universe.

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

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

There is a longing set of eyes that notices.

There is a hopeful heart that notices.

There is a wishful soul that notices.

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

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

I guarantee someone will notice.

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

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

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

It Only Takes One

A month ago my daughter tried to grow her own Christmas tree. Today I came out to discover this tiny white flower that somehow grew in the harshest of elements. It only takes one.

*Name has been changed to protect privacy

Last week I received an email message from a man living on the East Coast. It was the type of message that one has to read several times to grasp the full capacity of the words.

I felt the hairs on my arms stand on end at one point in the letter. But it wasn’t until a teardrop fell upon my hand that I realized these words were not simply meant for my eyes.

The author of this poignant email message graciously allowed me to write about his story.

I considered many angles on this particular post because there are many, many lessons to be learned from it. I typically have a clear message in mind before I begin writing each narrative. Most days, I have a Hands Free photo uploaded that I gaze at for inspiration. Usually I know exactly what I will be challenging my readers to think about.  But today’s post is not like any other because today’s story is extraordinary.

Today, I have decided to go Hands Free. I am just simply going to write. For if there is anything I have learned through this journey, it is this: The most beautiful, life changing messages happen when you simply let them.

So let them…

Paul* was working on Wall Street on September 11, 2001. He evacuated his building in time to tragically witness the second plane hit the South Tower.

Although he was told to walk along the East-West Highway towards Midtown, he began running with a colleague. Through the chaotic screams and cries of survival, Paul felt compelled to glance back at the South Tower. He watched in disbelief and agony as hundreds of people jumped from windows.

After about ten minutes of running, he and his colleague saw a woman in her late sixties in tears and too tired to move. They each took one of her hands and assisted her as they walked about thirty blocks.

Paul and his colleague ended up staying in Penn Station for two nights with the woman they helped. They learned her name was Margaret and she was an executive assistant for a company in New Jersey. She just happened to be in the area on 9/11 because it was her day off and she was visiting friends.

Margaret ended up inviting Paul and his colleague to her home in New Jersey until Paul could finally call a cab and get back to his apartment.

After several months of upheaval and disruption, Paul’s life resumed.

So where is Paul now? Well, Paul is working as a highly successful investment banker in New York City. Yet, with the success comes a price.

Paul is expected to work six days a week, typically until nine o’clock at night.

His boss typically sends him a ridiculous number of email messages in a weekend and expects them to be answered. Paul has been told that his department needs to bring in $200 million dollars by March. This means Paul is to “crack the whip” on the people he manages. It is not uncommon for employees to not only miss family birthday celebrations, but even graduations and funerals.

Paul does not complain. He is grateful he has a job. He knew this is what he signed up to do. Although at times he feels like he can barely breathe, he accepts that this is the environment in which he lives and works.

But what Paul does not know is that he has found a way to bring light into darkness. He has found a way to bring air into a suffocating space. He has found a way to pick up those in despair and carry them, carry them to safety; the way he reached down and saved Margaret from an early death.

How? Read on. And read carefully…

Paul sent an email last week to his staff of forty people. He asked them to provide the dates of birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and any other special occasions that will occur in their families between now and June.

Paul cannot defy his boss by allowing his employees to work less than six days a week, but he can ensure that a particular individual does not work past four o’clock p.m. on the days of special family events.

In addition, his department is going to send flowers and/or chocolate to the family.

Paul’s email message had one last detail. On the upcoming Monday, he would be attending the funeral of a very special woman he met on 9/11. Her name was Margaret.

I wish I could have seen the faces of the people reading his email that day.

I wish I could see the face of the young man whose dad shows up to his high school graduation after having missed so many other momentous events.

I wish I could see the face of the woman when her husband comes through the door carrying flowers and says, “Happy Anniversary. I don’t want you to ever spend another one alone.”

I wish I could see the face of the young lady when her mom comes home early to help her dress for the prom.

I wish I could see the little boy’s face when his daddy surprises him for his birthday and says with tears in his eyes, “I am sorry I missed your last birthday, but I am here now, buddy. I am here now.”

I wish I could see the faces of Margaret’s family when the man who carried their precious beloved through the carnage and chaos of 9/11 walks through the door of the funeral home.

I will not see those faces, but I have a feeling I know what that moment will look like.

It will look like a single beam of sun that somehow manages to shine through the darkest blanket of menacing clouds.

It will look like an exquisite sea barnacle clinging to a tattered piece of soiled driftwood.

It will look like a tiny purple flower that somehow managed to sprout through a crack in the cruel asphalt.

It will look like one chance, one possibility, one miracle, one beautiful and unmistakable Sign of Hope.

You will often hear me say that I am simply a messenger on this Hands Free journey. It is by the grace of God and the grace of Paul that I have this message to give. The message that kept me awake night after night until it was written is this:

You may not work on Wall Street. You may not have an unscrupulous boss. You may not have had to run through the streets on 9/11, but every single one of us has a chance EACH and EVERY day to bring peace into the chaos and light into the darkness.

Every single one of us has a chance to put what really matters smack dab in the middle of the distraction that prevents us from truly living.

It only takes one light.

It only takes one hand.

It only takes one…

To Save A Life

It might even be your own.

As I mentioned before, today’s blog post kept me awake until it was written. It only needed one revision (I average five revisions per post). The initial word count was 1111. I am simply the messenger for something and someone far greater than myself.  Help me spread this message by clicking “share” on the button below. It only takes one. Let it start with you.

Hands Free Evidence

One of my most widely shared blog posts was entitled, “Putting Distraction In Its Place.” If you have had a chance to read it you may remember the line, “My driving habits will affect my children’s driving habits. Let it be the good ones, not the bad ones.”

A few weeks have passed since then and my readers have kindly shared their inspiring stories of the big and little ways they are going Hands Free.  That got me thinking about what might be on the flip side of that coin of distraction. If my negative distracted behaviors influence the choices my children make, then what about my positive Hands Free behaviors?

It was around the time that I found something my daughter had taken great care in doing.  When I saw it, I knew. I knew.

By engaging in Hands Free behaviors myself, my children were reaping the benefits. I had evidence to prove it. More specifically, I had Hands Free Evidence to prove it.

And this is what it looks like…

My family recently had the opportunity to sponsor a child for $40 a month through Compassion International. My husband, Scott, walked my seven-year-old daughter to the table at the back of our church to look at the pictures of the children waiting to be sponsored.

Later he described how my daughter looked carefully at each and every photo, then selected ‘Priscilla.’  He was quite surprised that of all the adorable, bright smiling faces our daughter chose the forlorn looking girl.

When he asked my daughter why she picked Priscilla, this is what my daughter said, “She is the only one who is not smiling, and I want to give her a reason to smile.”

I was amazed and slightly embarrassed. Because the truth was that I am not sure I would have made the same choice. Something tells me that I would have looked for the cutest, most bubbly looking child in the bunch.

My daughter gave me a Hands Free realization right then and there. Going Hands Free means making choices that are not always the convenient, most pleasant, ones. Going Hands Free often translates to “effort” instead of “easy.”

When we arrived home, I read the list of “restricted” items that we were forbidden to send to Priscilla.  It said that gifts typically do not reach their destination, so only “paper gifts” may be sent.

To me, that did not leave a whole lot of choices. I expected that my daughter would write a nice note and fold it neatly into the envelope.

But going Hands Free means diverting attention away from the things that easily catch our attention, (Internet, email, social networking sites, and text messaging), and instead place focus on activities that may require more effort, but eventually create an impression, an impact, or a memory.

It appeared that my daughter already knew this. She did not simply write a short note introducing herself to Priscilla. What she did instead meant she did not play; she did not watch television; she did not snack or goof around.  For two hours she remained upstairs thinking, working, and creating something that would bring joy to a face that only spoke of pain.

I found the Compassion International envelope sitting on the counter a few days later. My daughter had sealed it shut without showing me the contents.

While I was fairly certain she did not put in a restricted item, she is only seven years old, so I decided to check.

When I pulled out all the items that she had packed so lovingly into the small envelope I found myself both laughing and crying at the depths of her creative and compassionate seven-year-old heart.

My daughter had complied with the restrictions, yet unbelievably managed to provide gifts that would touch Priscilla’s heart and, more importantly, bring a smile.

This is what Hands Free Evidence looks like:

As I stared in wonder at the contents of this envelope, a profound realization occurred to me:

Hands Free Evidence does not remain when we are in a hurry.

Hands Free Evidence does not remain when we are distracted.

Hands Free Evidence does not remain when the focus is on our own self and our own needs.

Hands Free Evidence is left behind only when take the time to slow down, be in the moment, and think outside of ourselves.

Going Hands Free is not always easy, but the results are a sight to behold.

But this story does not end here. You see, as you are also becoming Hands Free, your children are, too.  You have shown me the evidence, the unmistakable Hands Free Evidence.

I now share with you three examples of Hands Free Evidence created by children whose parents have embraced a Hands Free life.

One Hands Free Mom shared these profound words with me about going Hands Free with her children,“When I give them more of the positive attention they and I deserve, I feel the energy shift in the room.”

Here is a photo of the Hands Free evidence that her daughter left on the driveway. It reads: Joke Show 20 cents only. The money goes to the animal shelters and charity.

Another one of my readers is a father who likens going Hands Free to “looking in the mirror and deciding whether or not to change something you don’t like seeing in yourself.”

This same father shared with me recently how bothered he has become when he sees parents glued to their hand-held communication devices. I swear he had tears in his eyes when he described how a little girl in his son’s martial arts class struggled with her kneepads as her father sat oblivious to her while playing on his iPhone.

In photo below, the son of this Hands Free Dad holds an exquisite winter sculpture, Hands Free Evidence that he astutely discovered on a cold January morning.

And finally, this Hands Free reader, along with her Hands Free husband, discovered that family vacations are more memorable and more meaningful when they are devoid of all communication devices. While cleaning her daughter’s room one evening, she found this letter. It translates to read: The only thing that I wish is a simple God, that I wish. The only thing that makes the flowers bloom is a simple God. That’s what I think.

Take a look back at these beautiful photos and then commit these valuable truths to your heart and mind:

Hands Free Evidence does not remain when we are in a hurry.

Hands Free Evidence does not remain when we are distracted.

Hands Free Evidence does not remain when the focus is on our own self and our own needs.

Hands Free Evidence is left behind only when take the time to slow down, be in the moment, and think outside of ourselves.

Going Hands Free is not always easy, but the results are a sight to behold.

My daughter knew this when she selected Priscilla from an array of much happier prospects. My daughter knew this when she poured time, effort, and love into creating her care package.  Was my daughter’s knowledge a result of me living Hands Free or was she living this way all along and I was just too “busy” to see it?

You know what? It really doesn’t matter. Because the beauty of going Hands Free is that it is not about what happened yesterday; it is about today. And what really matters is this:

My children, at age seven and four, are cultivating what it means to be Hands Free; they are creating extraordinary evidence of what it means to be Hands Free; and they are loving and embracing what it means to be Hands Free.

That, in itself, is enough to put a permanent Hands Free smile on the face of distraction.

Have you ever seen any Hands Free Evidence created by your children or a loved one? If so, what was it? And if you haven’t seen any, maybe now you know it’s there. By going Hands Free yourself, you might finally see it.

I Thought You Would Never Ask

My hand, my daughter's hand, and the 60 piece puzzle: Not such a rare sight anymore, thanks to being Hands Free!

My four-year-old daughter has always loved puzzles. Whenever “PawPaw” (my dad) comes to visit us, it is not unusual for them to put together several puzzles a day.

I always marveled at the way they huddle shoulder to shoulder examining each piece, attempting to place it securely in its destined spot. If it doesn’t fit, one of them says, “Nope, not there.” Then they happily continue searching for the right combination. If it does fit, there is always a mini celebration of high fives between a big hand and a little hand.

It had always been a secret relief of mine that my dad loved to do puzzles with my child. I see the great pleasure on his face as he teaches her to organize the same-colored pieces and how to look for the magical “straight edge” pieces.

I do not share the same joy of puzzles. I have never enjoyed doing puzzles. I have always convinced myself that my brain is just not wired to do puzzles.

That was before I became Hands Free. Now I call myself out on those lame excuses. I have faced the reality that those empty justifications are total BS.

Sometimes the truth hurts. Sometimes the truth is brutal. Sometimes the truth is hard to face. But I have learned that the truth is what helps me grow into the person I want to become. So here is the REAL truth as to why I didn’t do puzzles with my puzzle-loving child…

Puzzles required me to stop “being productive.” I couldn’t get X, Y, and Z done while completing a puzzle.

Puzzles required me to be patient. I could not accomplish a puzzle in five minutes and mark it off “the list.”

Puzzles required solitary focus on one task. I could not accomplish a puzzle and multi-task.

Puzzles required mistakes through trial and error. I could not complete a puzzle without putting the wrong pieces in the wrong places several times.

Puzzles required this compulsive Type A super-planner-organizer multi-tasker extraordinaire to slow down, focus, and BE in the moment.

And that is precisely what I did.

As if my daughter had sensed the change that had come over her mother, she asked me to do a puzzle with her. With a huge smile on her face, her two little hands proudly held up the 60 piece puzzle that her PawPaw and MeMe had given her for Christmas.

To be honest, just the sight of a puzzle with that number of pieces (which I uneasily noticed were very similar in color and pattern) caused me to feel a bit woozy. My former drill sergeant inner voice (which still manages to push productivity despite how much I try to silence it) wondered why it couldn’t be the Buzz and Woody 22 piece puzzle.

I took a deep breath, and we spread out the pieces…all 60 of them. Completion required two thirty-minute work periods. During those time periods,

-My daughter glanced at my legs several times. Even though my troublesome right knee did not allow me to sit “criss-cross applesauce” as instructed, my daughter was visibly pleased to see her Mama sitting there on the floor with her. Her perma-smile said it all.

-When she handed me a puzzle piece, she started calling me by my first name. Instead of “Mama” or “Mom,” she said, “Here you go, Rachel.” Suddenly we had become best friends who were on a first-name basis.

-When I got several difficult pieces in their proper spots she said, “You are doing a great job, Rachel.” She was the puzzle expert and I was her student passing the test with flying colors.

-My child gave me high fives throughout the puzzle completion process. Even if we hadn’t completed the puzzle, I could clearly see that my daughter felt my mere efforts were worthy enough for celebration.

Interestingly enough, while I was going through this Hands Free experience with my daughter, one of my readers was having one of her own.  Both of our stories so beautifully illustrate the message of today’s post that I am compelled to share. I thank this mother for sharing her story with me and for allowing me to share it now with you.

Here is her story in her own words:

Because my son is eleven-years-old, he tends to be into the “shoot ‘em up” video games, as well as football and basketball video games that do not appeal to me. He has asked me several times to play with him, but I always say I will watch him play. Then I end up on Facebook while I sit in the room with him.  But recently one evening, I ran down the basement steps and said, “What game are we going play?”  He paused his game, looked me in the face, and with a surprised voice he said, “You WANT to play?”

When I said yes, he grabbed me and kissed me. Then he handed me a controller.  He was so patient with me (as I have no clue how to play).  He kept looking at me as if he couldn’t believe I was there. This was a “Sunset Moment” I will never forget.

You see, it does not matter if we are talking puzzles or video games, playing catch or practicing gymnastics, baking bread or playing chess.

It does not matter if we are talking six-year-old girls or eleven-year-old boys, active toddlers or busy teenagers, preschoolers or middle schoolers.

There is one thing that holds true for all children, regardless of age, interests, gender or personality:

Children simply want us to spend time with them.

Children simply want to show us what they know and can do.

Children simply want us to be a part of their world.

Even if putting together a 750-piece Lego set is not your thing. Even if playing Barbie dolls puts you to sleep. Even if it means listening to the latest song your child downloaded from i-Tunes that doesn’t really sound like music at all.

Just do it.

Do it for your child.

Isn’t that reason enough?

When is the last time you did something outside your comfort zone or area of interest just so you could spend time with your child (or spouse or significant other)? If it happened recently, I would love to hear about it. If you can’t think of anything, the solution is simple. Just do it. Do it now before they do it with someone else.