The Index Card Every Kid Needs to Get Today

Image 7
It was a chance for parents to get to know their child’s middle school teachers. We would spend ten minutes in each classroom listening to the teacher share his or her educational background, classroom procedures, and expectations. I wasn’t expecting to hear anything earth shattering that night, but I did. As soon as Mr. B began talking, I sensed I was in a very special place and there would be an important takeaway. My hope is that my takeaway becomes yours too.

****

As parents settled into their seats, Mr. B immediately noted the stack of index cards in the middle of the desks. He invited us to take one and write down our child’s passions. “Connecting with each student is very important to me,” the science teacher explained. “Tapping into what makes them excited … what makes them come to life … is my goal,” he explained.

But here is where I went from simply listening to actually feeling his words:

“Nothing pains me more than walking down a school hallway and seeing a desolate look on a child’s face, like they are in prison. It pains me because that was me,” he said. “School felt like prison. I dreaded each and every day. Creating a classroom where kids are excited, comfortable, and known can make all the difference.”

And here is when two warm tears slid down my cheeks:

“Parents, I never want students in my class to stress if they need an extra day to prepare for a test or complete an assignment. There is a fine line between pushing our kids and understanding they have lots of things going on. I don’t want them to stress about my class,” he said reassuringly. “Have them talk to me. We’ll work it out.”

I felt a collective sigh of relief among those sitting around me. We’d never heard such a thing—perhaps in our whole lives. Just imagine how the students felt when they heard this beautiful offer of compassion and understanding. I thought to myself getting teary again.

Just then, the intercom sounded. The ten-minute session was up; it was time to go to the next class.

I didn’t want to leave.

I wanted to hear more pressure-relieving words of wisdom from this kind and generous educator.

“Oh, and if you and your child see me in the community, please walk up and say hi!” he said loudly over the pushing in of chairs and departure commotion. “I promise you won’t be bothering me. I never stop being a teacher. I am all in.”

He’s all in.

I looked down at my index card. I’d filled up both sides, my handwriting getting smaller and smaller towards the end. I had so much to say.

He’d asked about my girl—my smart, funny, conscientious, bright, beautiful girl. But because she is quiet and shy in school settings, people often never know who she really is.

But he asked. And more importantly, he wanted to know.

He’s all in.

And my heart nearly burst with gratitude because of it.

I stood in line behind all the other parents who wanted to shake the hand of the man who was creating an optimal learning environment for their child to thrive. Many of us hadn’t met anyone like him before. As expected, the gentle teacher looked into each person’s eyes and appeared grateful for the opportunity to meet them.

When I got home, my daughter asked which teacher did I think was her favorite.

“Mr. B,” I said without hesitation.

She smiled. “He is so kind and interesting, Mom. I am so glad I got him for a teacher.”

I sat down on the kitchen stool, anxious to tell her how he moved me to tears (minus the tears part because she would have been mortified by that detail.) “Mr. B asked us to fill out an index card detailing what you’re passionate about,” I told her. “He wants to get to know each one of his 150 students. Isn’t that remarkable?”

“Wow! What did you write?” she asked curiously.

“I took a picture so you could see,” I said handing her my phone.

Image 1

Image 2
“Mom! Did you really fill up both sides?” she exclaimed, sounding slightly embarrassed and slightly delighted.

But her question didn’t require an answer. She was already reading my comments. A look of pure joy and peace settled on her face. Yes, she was known … and she wanted to be known. But don’t we all? Yet, oftentimes, we’re not. But Mr. B gave me hope. Which brings me to the takeaway I promised you:

Your child may not have a teacher like Mr. B and possibly never will. But there is something to be learned from this man that we can all use and offer today:

Connection – let us remember it is the key to understanding, acceptance, and assurance. It offers refuge from the pressures and critics of the world. Connection provides a secure foundation for human spirits to grow and flourish.

Pressure – let us be flexible with our demands and expectations. Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that a task or goal doesn’t have to be completed on our timeline or in a specific way. The healing and hopeful words, “don’t stress,” are a gift we can give to alleviate pressure and focus on what truly matters.

Availability – let us be one who is approachable – no matter how tired we are, no matter how busy we are, no matter how bad of a day we just had. If our children approach us, let love never be ‘off the clock.’ Offer a loving hello and an “I’m so glad to see you.” We might then become the one they seek out in times of despair and challenge.

Knowledge – let us never stop wanting to know what makes our loved ones excited, curious, passionate, and alive. Start a collection of index cards documenting what you are learning about your beloveds. Share it with them. Let them see how wonderful you think they are. And if you don’t know their passions, make it your mission to find out.

Today holds the opportunity to notice desolate faces as they walk through the hallways of our lives. As Mr. B reminds us, we hold a precious key—one that opens a passageway to potential with plenty of room to breathe.

I’m all in.

How about you?

Let’s fill the world with index cards, writing love on every line of our beloveds’ hopeful hearts.

DSC_0300

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

Friends, if you accept the index card challenge, please let us know in our Hands Free communities on Facebook & Instagram. Use the hashtag #indexcardchallenge so we can inspire each other! Please see the Presence Pledge print if you would like a visual reminder in your home to leave your loved one’s spirit stronger and brighter. See the Hands Free Shop for wearable reminders to choose connection and love over distraction and criticism. And now for some incredible resources to help us parent the way Mr. B teaches:

  • Co-Parenting Without Power Struggles is a free online series hosted by the incredible Susan Stiffelman, a certified marriage & family therapist with over 30 years of experience. Each of Susan’s guests will be sharing gems of wisdom and practical guidance around co-parenting and invaluable information for managing life as a single parent. Speakers include: Byron Katie, Martha Beck, Glennon Doyle Melton, Harville Hendrix, Dr. Michele Borba, Dr. Laura Markham, Katherine Woodward Thomas, and John Gray. Registration for the entire series of classes is absolutely FREE, and replays of the classes will be available for all who register in advance. Click here to register. The summit airs September 20 – 24.
  • Casey O’Roarty of Joyful Courage has written a powerful article called “10 Steps to Becoming a More Intentional Parent.” If that article resonates with you, I encourage you to join Casey in her Intentional Parent Project. It is a 10-week course beginning Monday, September 12th that joins the internal work of parenting with external tools for inviting more cooperation and contribution into the home.

A final note from Rachel: California Bay Area friends, just a few more days until we are together! Last minute seats are expected to come available for this sold out event. Email Carol at carol@cpcdanville.org to inquire about a ticket! Friends in other parts of the country, please see my event page for four speaking events scheduled for this fall and spring.

Thank you for sharing your stories & your encouragements! The comment section of this blog and the Facebook page are pure gold because of you.

The Apology I Never Want to Hear Again

Image 15

“I’m on your side,
So shed your shadow
And watch it rise.
Into your darkness,
I’ll shine a light.
Bring your secrets, bring your scars.
Bring your glory, all you are.”
–Phillip Phillips, Unpack Your Heart

The headlining band had just come on stage. The crowd was on their feet, cheering wildly. I was taking it all in—the lights, the sounds, the smell of the rain coming down just beyond the amphitheater covering. Flanked between my dear friend and my loving husband, all my senses were alive and content.

That’s when she turned to me—the young woman positioned in the isle in front of me. “I’m sorry,” she said as she leaned towards me, attempting to talk over the loud music.

I wasn’t sure I heard her right. What could she be apologizing for? I wondered. I leaned in closer and listened carefully.

“I’m sorry you have to look at my soggy, fat ass all night,” she said.

Oh.

No.

 No. No. No. I thought as my brain scrambled for a response.

I hoped that perhaps she was joking—but the solemn look on this woman’s face confirmed this was no laughing matter. She was apologizing for her appearance … for her size … for taking up space … for being her.

Although I felt like crying, I placed my hand on this young woman’s upper arm. It was wet from a mixture of sweat and precipitation, but I was not repulsed. I rested my hand there, on the arm of someone’s beautiful daughter and said what I hoped would liberate her for at least a couple hours.

[Read more…]

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


DSC_0624

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

*names have been changed

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

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

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

[Read more…]

An Unusual Term for Death that Helps Me Live Fully in Today

DSC_0219“It’s the perfect time of day
It’s the last day of your life
Don’t let it drift away
While your heart is still racing
It’s the perfect time of day.”
Howie Day

I avoided a particular closet in my house for two years. Stacked inside were five large, plastic bins stuffed with loose papers, writing notebooks, and keepsakes I didn’t have time to file before we moved two years ago. Coincidentally, the items inside the containers were collected during the first four years of my journey to a less distracted life.

For the past two years, I’ve wanted to go through the massive collection piece by piece, determining whether it should be filed or discarded. But the task was immense and intimidating. It was much easier to avoid the closet altogether and plan on doing it another day.

‘Another day’ finally arrived in July when I was taking a month-long break from blogging and posting online to spend time with my family and focus on an on-going physical pain in my body.

I was only halfway through the first container when I was generously rewarded for taking on this monumental task. There, among the disarray, was something that didn’t belong to me. It was a booklet of poems addressed to my dad. I’m not sure why I had it. I’d never seen it before.

[Read more…]

The Photo that Conveyed a Message You Need to Hear

DSC_0131“In the morning to another day,
twisting and dodging the drops of rain
Now I know what I wanna be,
it’s what you already see.”
-Sister Hazel, You See Me Beautiful

This is a picture of my Noticer of life child and Lacie, a kitten we fostered over the summer. This photo was taken right before Lacie’s new owner came to take her to her forever home. When I looked at my camera after taking the picture, I knew I had to tell you this story, and I knew today, August 12th, would be the day.

[Read more…]

The Right Time to Hear Four Inclusive Words

DSC_0368I ain’t made for a rivalry, I could never take the world alone
I know that in my weakness I am stronger
It’s your love that brings me home
Brother, let me be your shelter
I’ll never leave you all alone.”
–Needtobreathe

As my daughters ran around the house excitedly looking for jean shorts and hairbands, I double-checked my purse, making sure I had four white papers tucked safely inside. I was absolutely certain this was my chance … my open window … my golden opportunity to leave an indelible recording in four impressionable young minds. Two of my daughters’ dearest friends from the state where we used to live were going to be spending the day with us. Recently, I’d felt a sense of urgency to tell these two sets of sisters something important; I refused to let time get the best of us.

The history of this special friendship was long and deep for their relatively short lives, but it was not complicated. Their connection began seven years ago with shared costumes and pretend tea. It evolved into sharing birthdays, church pews, daily rides to school, backyard forts, secrets, prayers, tears, and triumphs. Over the years, I’ve come to love them all, collectively and individually. I know their strengths. I know where they feel weak and vulnerable. I know what their faces look like when they are hurt, worried, or confused. I know when they are completely at ease. Most of all, I see the unique and important contribution each one makes in the world. I see their inner lights. And my greatest fear is that someone or something will snuff out their lights.

DSC_0383

I worry these vibrant young people will be lead to believe they are not enough—that they need to be smarter, smaller, taller, wittier, quieter, faster, flashier, shinier, riskier, or bolder.

One of the four girls is embarking on her first year of middle school. Two of them are embarking into their 13th year of life. The youngest of the group hits double digits in a matter of days. Moments of uncertainty, exclusion, rejection, and insecurity are common during these delicate years, as they are with many stages of life. But right now these four young ladies are listening; they are open; they are receptive. And I was going to have them all to myself. I would not waste this opportunity to provide them with inner armor; I was determined to place an important message on their hearts and wrists before someone else dared to dispute it.

I sat at a picnic table while the girls perused the outdoor mall. When ominous clouds began to move in, I sent a text to my older daughter indicating they should make their way back to the restaurant where we planned to meet for lunch.

As the girls walked up, I had a second thought. “Let’s get in the car for a moment,” I said. “I want to give you something.”

The girls happily piled in, just like they did when they were in kindergarten, minus the booster seats. As we shut the doors, the rain started coming down. It felt safe and soothing, and they were all mine; I had a captivated audience. I felt like I’d cleverly outwitted time. The young ladies looked at me expectantly.

“This is an important school year for each of you,” I began. “One of you is going to middle school, two of you are entering seventh grade, and one is turning double digits in a few days!”

They all smiled at each other, happiness and excitement graced their fresh faces, along with freckle kisses from the summer sun.

“These are exciting and wonderful years, but they can also be years when there is a lot of wondering: Am I ok? Do I need to be more like that person? Do I belong? Someone can come along and say something that makes you doubt yourself. So today I want to give you something you can look at in those moments for reassurance and truth.”

The girls opened their burlap bags to find a metal cuff that said four of the most inclusive words in the English language: Come as you are.

DSC_0386

I continued. “One of the first poems I wrote when I became an author was called, Come As You Are, but the words didn’t seem fitting for you. So yesterday I wrote a new version for people just starting out, people facing new beginnings—like you.”

This is what I read:

Come as you are.
Come with your quiet strength or shaky confidence.
Showing up either way takes bravery and practice.
Don’t let fear stop you from saying yes to life’s invitations.

Come as you are.
Come with your mistakes, your goofiness, your humanness.
People will love you more for it because then they can be real too.

Come as you are.
Come with what you love about yourself—whether it’s your hair, your handwriting, your smile, or the way you stand up for friends. Come with what you love about yourself even on days you can’t find anything. By showing up, you just might make that important discovery.

Come as you are.
Come with what you want to hide. Come with what makes you feel insecure.
I promise the person sitting next to you has insecurities too.
Together you can bring those hurts into the light of day where they can no longer hold you back.

Come as you are.
Come with your obnoxious laugh, your funny sneeze, your out-of-tune voice. Come with what makes you YOU. You might not realize it, but someone breathes a sigh of relief when you show up.

Come as you are.
Come with your decision to pay no mind to the haters. Refuse to let their jealousy or toxicity sabotage this moment in your life. Keep shining. Someday you’ll look back and be glad you didn’t let someone else dim your radiance.

Come as you are.
Come with your dreams, no matter how silly or outlandish. You are capable of those dreams. I’ve seen you in action—there is no limit to what you can do.

Come as you are, and offer the same acceptance to others.
Come with one kind thing to say, especially when people are staring at someone and talk is cruel. Come with kindness, and it will come back to you in ways unimaginable.  

Come as you are, just as you are.
Resist the pressure to conform.
Resist the pressure to be like someone else.
Be your beautiful, radiant, one-of-a kind self.
There is nothing more freeing than loving yourself “as is.”

Come as you are, you don’t need to change a thing—not today, not ever.
Come as you are; let your inner light invite someone else to come forth “as is.”
Come as you are, a living beacon of hope.

During the reading, the girls were quiet except for a few lines—one line brought laughter, one garnered head nods, and one line produced a fierce muscle flex. And when I was finished, the girls thanked me profusely and quickly slipped the cuffs on their wrists.

“Let’s go eat!” I exclaimed, noticing the rain had magically stopped and the sun was peaking out.

As the foursome walked toward the restaurant, one of the young ladies wrapped her arm around her friend. The next one followed suit, and then the next one, until they fell in line shoulder to shoulder.

DSC_0369

It was subtle, but the message was clear, “I love you for who you are. I’ve got your back, sister. I’ve got your back.”

The Armor of Acceptance

Together we are stronger than we are alone.

For a fleeting moment, I thought, my work here is done.

But I know it’s not.

My work is far from over.

I will continue to encourage and affirm these sisters every chance I get, as well as other sisters and brothers—those who I’ve met and have yet to meet, those who I love and who are hard to love.

Because don’t we all, at some point or another, wonder if we are okay … if we need changing … if we belong? What might happen if we were to start looking for those in fragile periods of uncertainty, times when they’re most open and hungry for words of acceptance and assurance? What if we were to provide a moment of shelter from conformity’s damaging forces? What if we allowed our sisters and brothers to be themselves in our presence? What if we frequently reminded them, “You are perfect just as you are?”

The Armor of Acceptance … it’s a beautiful thing.

One size fits all.
Quantities are unlimited.
Breathing room is included.

The Armor of Acceptance … it’s a beautiful thing.

I have it to give.
You have it to give.
And by giving it to others, we inadvertently give it to ourselves.

Come as you are, just as you are … and I will too. Because when I invite you, I invite myself.

Shoulder to shoulder, scar to scar, heart to heart, we are stronger together than we are alone.

DSC_0374

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

Dear friends of the Hands Free Revolution, I leave you with two important notes: 

1) As many young people head into new school years and new territories, please consider gifting them with the “come as you are” cuff (comes in copper or aluminum) and feel free to use any words I have written above to communicate your unconditional love and acceptance. There is free domestic shipping on all items in the Hands Free Shop from today until August 19th. Simply use the code LOVESCHOOL to receive that discount at checkout. The ‘see flowers not weeds’ metal cuff is back in stock.

2) Bay Area friends, tickets for my September 13th speaking event in Diablo go on sale tomorrow (Wednesday, August 10) on the event page here. The coordinators of the event indicate the event will sell out very quickly so please click their event page for that ticket link posting on 8/10. If you don’t have a Facebook account, you can contact Community Presbyterian Church who is hosting the event. Thanks to everyone who have let me know they are coming! It makes me feel so loved! I am also looking forward to seeing my friends in Chattanooga, Clarksville, and Mandan this fall. See my speaking event page for dates and ticket information. (Please note, the date of the event in Clarksville was changed to Thursday, October 6th.)

Thank you for being part of The Hands Free Revolution. Join me on Instagram for additional messages, images, and invitations to come as you are. I cherish each one of you. 

Easy Relief for Hard Times & Thirsty Souls

DSC_0325“What you need, I need too
What you are, I am too
’cause we’re all the same
under a different name.”
-Ingrid Michaelson

Throughout the month of July, I took a break from writing and posting online. I took the opportunity to relish the joy of finishing my third book, spend time with my family, and find loving homes for the six kittens we’d fostered in June. I must admit, it felt like an odd time to be quiet when so much turmoil, tragedy, conflict, and discord were happening in the world. It felt like an odd time to be quiet when there was much to be vocal about. Although I was not posting, many people were. Reading the latest news reports and passionately expressed opinions wasn’t always easy, but I did it. My belief is that when we are divided and conflicted, listening is critical. So I listened in an effort to gather information, perspective, and understanding. After listening, I found it necessary to put on my walking shoes. Walking has always been therapeutic for me, offering clarity and hope with each step I take. It’s where I do my best thinking and words fill the pocket-sized notebooks I carry with me.

My younger daughter’s swim practice gave me ample opportunity to walk each day. It lasted an hour and half. The only downside was it occurred at 2:15pm—the hottest part of the day. But the blank pages in my July writing notebook served as great motivation despite the near 100-degree temps. I’d been doing a lot of listening and thinking, but not a lot of writing. It was difficult to put into words what I was feeling in my heart. I worried I wouldn’t have any words to bring back to you. So I lathered up my exposed areas with sunscreen, threw on a ball cap, and walked by faith, hoping words would come as I wore down the soles of my shoes.

During one especially hot afternoon walk, I kept thinking about something a friend suggested to cultivate more peace and understanding within our society. She’d said something like: “Look for those who are different from you and connect with them in some way.”

That’s when I saw him—he was working in the flowerbeds at the entrance of a neighborhood. He might have looked more fitting in a professional football uniform or in secret service attire. With shoulders of a linebacker, his orange landscaping shirt was stretched to capacity and soaked with sweat. At that moment, the massive man paused over the red zinnias to wipe his brow. I knew the feeling. I’d run out of dry cloth on my tank top to wipe my face. This gave me an idea.

[Read more…]

A Comeback Anthem for the Fighter Within

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Read more…]

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

13

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

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

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

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

too impatient

too controlling

too worry wart

too task driven

too rushed

too independent

too overreacting

too secretive

too sensitive

too perfectionistic

too contentious

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

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

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

[Read more…]

A Way for Kids to Learn What the Right Choice Feels Like

DSC_0472 “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.” –Helen Keller

The litter of kittens arrived at our house last Wednesday night just before midnight. It was a desperate situation—I knew the minute I heard the emotional plea from the owner of the cat shelter where my daughters and I volunteer.

“The maintenance man at a nearby apartment building was going to kill them if no one came and got them.”

Kill them –

Not call animal control or ask some of the apartment residents if they could help.

Kill them.

Just kill them.

“I can detect empty threats, Rachel, and this is not one of them,” the shelter owner continued. “I know you did not sign up to foster cats, but I already have twenty in my house. I wanted to see if you’d be willing to foster the kittens until they’re old enough to be placed up for adoption.”

While I am usually a planner, thinking carefully through all decisions that impact our family, I answered immediately. “Yes, of course,” I said without hesitation, praying my not-a-fan-of-cats husband would understand.

Very late that night the five-week-old kittens arrived. My older daughter Natalie insisted on waiting by the door and helping me get them settled. It was only their second night without their mother who was very sick from outdoor elements, lack of nourishment, and an infectious tick bite.

But the kittens did not cry. They relaxed when we held them. They purred loudly and nestled in for warmth.

Image 17

The next morning I sent an explanatory text message (hopeful plea) to my husband who was out of town at the time of the kittens’ arrival. I also added some adorable photos for extra reinforcement. (Couldn’t hurt!)

A few minutes later, my husband texted back: “You did the right thing.”
[Read more…]