One Long, Overdue Question and a Sky of Possibilities

dreamer“For all the heartbreak dreamers waiting for the light
Looking for just one reason to get through the night
Every long lost believer caught in the fight
All the heartbreak dreamers gonna be alright
Everybody sing.”
– Mat Kearney, Heartbreak Dreamer

Several months ago my daughter Avery and her classmates were presented with a surprise Chick-fil-A lunch by an author friend of mine who deeply appreciates her Noticer existence and firefly light.

On the day of the celebration, the author had prepared a special note for Avery’s teacher to read out loud. The author explained the reason for the party as this:

“Dear Avery, I hope you and your classmates enjoy this special treat. It’s my way of honoring you and saying ‘thank you’ for all you’ve done to inspire so many (including me) just by being who you are – a light who shines from within and a Noticer. I also hope you appreciate just how incredible and how beautiful those two ‘invisible’ gifts are and that you will never stop being you.”

As those words were read, the expression on my child’s face was nearly indescribable, but I will try. Beyond an enormous smile that could not be contained was equal parts joy … certainty … clarity … relief … peace … and fire. Oh yes, behind Avery’s little pair of eyeglasses was a fiery determination I’d never seen before. And above Avery’s head, the Sky of Possibilities opened up. For a brief moment I was a mind reader, feeling quite certain what she was thinking: I am somebody, and I have a gift worthy of sharing.

DSC_0711

One week later, Avery began writing music; I am talking real songs, real chords, and soul-stirring lyrics that might be heard on the radio today. Coincidence? I think not. The gift of affirmation is mighty powerful—it has the power to become belief, inspiration, and courage when given at a pivotal time in a person’s life.

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A Vow to ‘Soften’ So Your Loved Ones Can Shine

vow to soften

I received a booklet from each of my daughters for Christmas. Some of the pages made me laugh. Others made me cry. But a few pages stood out.

“I love when you talk to me like a friend.”

“I love that you love my opinion.”

“I love how you never are mean to me.”

“I’d be lost without your love.”

It’s not often a person receives tangible signs of progress—an unexpected measurement of how far she’s come.

you are never mean to me

love #HFM

My Hands Free journey started as a mission to let go of my millions of distractions and my need for perfection. As those outer barriers dismantled, my inner barriers did too. I felt myself being less of a controlling manager and more of a peaceful nurturer. As my inner barriers weakened, my ability to respond more lovingly, more patiently, and more openly grew.

My friends Lisa and Shawn call this process softening, and I just love the image that word creates and the feeling of calm it brings.

To me, softening has come to mean pausing, breathing, reflecting, surrendering, accepting, opening, and revealing.

But there is more – and this is the kicker:

Softening means seeing—truly seeing.

By responding to others and myself with more compassion, patience, and acceptance, I’ve begun to see less in black and white and more in color. I had no idea my loved ones had so many colors until I began to soften so they could shine.

waves HFM

As New Year’s resolutions or “word of the year” bounce around in your head this week, I hope this one sticks: soften. It is doable. Its benefits reach far beyond you. It is life-changing and life-giving. And even a little bit of softening goes a long way.

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Consider Being Softer: It’s the Gift They’ve Always Wanted

soften #HFM

“You don’t have to go looking for love when it’s where you come from.” -Werner Erhard

During a nightly walk, my younger daughter told me she wanted to visit a nursing home like we did before we moved. “There’s just something about old people,” she explained. “It makes me sad sometimes when I see them. I just want to cheer them up.”

“Okay,” I said, both pleased and surprised to learn this about her. “Let’s plan on it. And as soon as we get home, I want to show you something.”

After Avery got into her pajamas, we gathered in her bed and I pulled up this video. I’d watched it more times than I care to admit. In this touching German commercial, an elderly father fakes his death in order to get his busy children and grandchildren to come see him for the holidays. The way the man’s sullen face transforms to elation when given the gift of time and presence makes me weep.

I thought I was alone in this emotional reaction to mere commercial—but it turns out, I wasn’t.

When it got to the part where the man comes around the corner revealing he is alive, my child began to cry. She covered her face. “I can’t stand it. It makes me sad and happy, Mama,” she whimpered.

“Me too,” I said. “I feel the same way.”

Avery leaned her head against me like two kindred souls who knew it was okay to be soft together … to be open to the pain and joy of others … to cry if you are moved.

I gave her that gift; I thought to myself. And suddenly a long-held cloak of shame lifted—the one that labeled me a terrible gift giver. It stemmed from an experience at age eight when I hurriedly stuffed a flimsy ten-dollar bill in a plain envelope for my sister’s Christmas gift. On Christmas morning the money was accidentally discarded with the crumpled wrapping paper. My family searched and searched but couldn’t find it. My sister seemed so sad that Christmas morning, but it wasn’t about the money. I knew she would be smiling had I put a little thought and effort into her gift that year—had I not been so selfish. Putting my needs and my agenda ahead of everyone else’s was an on-going problem of mine, and it could not be ignored whenever birthdays and holidays rolled around. What in the world will I give? I’d wracked my brain knowing what was required to give a meaningful gift was often more than I was willing to give.

Until this year.

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Note to Self: You Don’t Have to Have the Answers Today

note to self

“We are all ready,” my 12-year-old daughter messaged me with a picture of two smiling early morning faces. Days before, she’d assured me that she and her sister didn’t need anyone to care for them when their dad and I left at 5am to go to the hospital. She assured me she could get them up at 6:30, fed, and ready at 7 o’clock. I had faith in them; I said okay. And like any good Type A list-maker would, I left a checklist, being sure to mention the importance of waking her little sister up gently.

So there I was donned in my surgical gown and ghastly cap—teeth chattering, no less. But instead of worrying about my impending surgery, I thought about how things were going at home. Would they get themselves off to school okay?

With one message and photo, my question was answered. One big fat tear ran down my cheek. They could do it. They could do it. What a beautiful answer I’d just received.

Shortly after I received the text, I was wheeled into the operating room. I was greeted with cold air and lively music. I was usually good at ‘name that tune’, but I couldn’t remember the title of that familiar song. I knew I liked it though. It was a good dance song.

“I forgot you played music in the operating room!” I said to the nurse as if we were walking into a club. Music is my thing. It often serves as my warm blanket in trying times. I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten about this little operating room “perk”.

“Some patients don’t like it,” the nurse said. “But many do.”

“Well, I love it,” I said enthusiastically hoping she’d turn it up. Instead she instructed me to transfer myself from the bed to the operating table. I knew exactly how to do it. I felt like a pro.

Within minutes, the anesthesiologist was giving me information and a cool rush was felt in my IV.

“It’s too tight on my arm,” I said in a shaky voice that felt like it might crack.

“It’s because I gave you some medicine. Don’t worry. We’ll take care good of you,” said a voice of calm.

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Clues to Cling to When Facing Life’s Mysteries

cookies

On Sunday I woke up with the feeling of angst. Monday was the day I was going to my urologist’s office to learn the findings of my recent CT scan. I’d done a really good job of not thinking about this day over the Thanksgiving holiday. But on Sunday morning I could not keep the anxiety at bay. I kept envisioning what the doctor would probably say.

I’m sorry, but we didn’t see anything.

 Because those are the words I’ve been hearing for many months now from several doctors despite many tests.

I decided that preparing myself for no answers would be the best route. At least I won’t be any worse off when I come out of the office than going in; I told my shaky heart over and over.

But uncertainty is hard. Uncertainty is uncomfortable—especially when you are one who likes to know, plan, and prepare.

I went to my paper calendar and reviewed the week’s appointments and events. My twelve-year-old daughter walked up and lovingly leaned against me. “Tomorrow you go to the doctor, Mama,” Natalie said knowing this was an important day. “What’s he going to say?”

“Well, he will tell me the results of my CT scan, and then we’ll go from there,” I explained, not really knowing what else to say.

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Day Openers to Breathe More, Stress Less, & Carry You Through

“Hope that you spend your days
And they all add up.
And when that sun goes down
Hope you raise your cup.”
 -One Republic, I Lived

Last weekend my 12-year-old daughter prepared a special birthday gift for one of her best friends. As a generous gift giver from an early age, it did not surprise me that Natalie put great thought into gathering her friend’s favorite things. Having outgrown the tendency to re-gift gently used items from around the house, the basket was filled with items Natalie purchased with her hard-earned babysitting money. What did surprise me about this gift were the envelopes tucked inside. My younger daughter discovered them while admiring the gift before her sister left for the party.

“Wow! This is so thoughtful,” I told my older daughter when she discovered her little sister and me bent over the gift basket. Natalie quickly gathered the envelopes up. I sensed she didn’t want us to make a fuss over this special touch, but I had to ask, “What’s inside the envelopes?”

“Just inspirational messages,” she said as she hugged the basket to her chest and headed to the door. “They’re just words to help my friend through situations that might come up.”

day openers HFM

day openers HFM

day openers HFM

Just words to carry her through.

There was nothing just about that.

Although I could not know for sure, I felt certain those envelopes would outlive the Eos lip balm. They would be more coveted than the warm PJ pants. They would be remembered long after the party was over. At the age of 12, this child got it—she got the point. I live each day of my life desperately wanting to get it too.

But so often I fall short—especially during chaotic, busy times like holidays. I get caught up in what’s on the outside—the tasks, the preparation, and how it looks. I forget what’s underneath—the memories, the connections, and how it feels. In light of personal health struggles and worldly tragedies, I don’t want to miss the point this holiday season.

Perhaps you don’t either.

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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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The Clasped Hands of Those Who Want to Belong

belong 2

My hands were sweaty. I saw the others gathered at the bus stop. I was new to bus stops. I was new to the neighborhood. They were talking and laughing and looking so at home. It took every ounce of courage to walk up. Every day it took courage to walk up. It was like that for six months.

This may sound like a childhood memory, but it is not.

This is one year ago from a woman in her early 40’s who by all standards appears confident, secure, friendly, and comfortable in her skin.

So when a blog reader wrote, “I feel isolated every time I walk into the schoolyard with my children because I feel I don’t fit in,” I got teary. I understood. And I wanted her to know she was not alone.

I’ve always experienced great apprehension when approaching groups. Walking into parties, classrooms, meetings, conferences, cafeterias, and social gatherings is difficult for me. I’d rather stay back, just listen, and keep my voice to myself. But if I do, an invitation—a very important invitation—is lost. Let me explain …

I was asked to speak at a conference a few weeks ago. Many people from my book publisher were also in attendance and they were hosting a gathering for their authors. I thought about the initial entrance and my hands got sweaty. For me that’s always the hardest part. Eyes turn to look … people huddled in conversation … my mind racing about what to say. I used to decline opportunities because of that initial angst, but I’ve learned a little trick: ask someone to go with you.

In this case, I invited two incredibly wonderful authors and human beings, Kari and Kelly, to join me. I would excitedly introduce them to my publishing team in hopes it would benefit them as well. The three of us walked to the party together and by the time we arrived, I almost forgot to be nervous. With two kind people by my side, the whole evening went far better than expected.

Later one of them said she felt like my invitation to the publisher’s party was a divine invitation to life—that despite there being so many established writers in the world, there was a place for her voice too.

I began to wonder if anyone really feels like she (or he) belongs.

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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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Bridging the Gap Created by Waves of Criticism

wave erosion

On the same day I heard from a woman about her non-existent relationship with her teenage son, my 12-year-old daughter created a wave erosion project for middle school science class.

She did it all by herself except for cutting the foam with a sharp kitchen knife. We huddled together on the floor the garage as I chipped away at the dense foam.

“Just a little more, Mama,” she directed.

Chip
Chip
Chip

I chipped away at the structure so it would appear battered and beat down by waves so powerful they altered the form forever.

But he has bad breath, so I tell him.
But he needs to shower. Is that so wrong to point it out?
But he never remembers to do what he’s supposed to so I nag.

Chip
Chip
Chip

I did not personally know the woman who was reaching out to me in desperation, but I knew exactly where she was coming from. I could hear the corrections in my mind as if they were my own. From personal experience, I knew her intentions were good—perhaps thinking her commentary would help her son fit in or become more responsible. But not only were the corrections ineffective, they were also driving the teen away from a mother who loved him dearly. That’s where they were now—far apart. The mother wanted to know if she could bridge the gap between them after years of chipping away his spirit.

I did not know, but the fact that she was asking … searching … taking a difficult look inward made me hopeful.

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