An Open Window to a Bravely Lived Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Life of the Party is Closer than You Think

the world needs more open arms1
“She is like a sun,
Shining over me
She makes the good things better,
Better than I ever dreamed.”
-Green River Ordinance

The other night, my friend and brilliant writer Alexandra Rosas shared a glimpse into her life. With short, non-descriptive sentences, it wasn’t intended to be profound. With text structure unpolished and informal, it wasn’t meant to evoke an emotional response like the well-crafted essays she writes. But yet her words brought me to my knees. I read them three times and then I cried. This is what Alexandra shared:

I fell asleep on the couch at 7 last night. Woke up two hours later at 9, looked around, everyone gone. I popped in to check on littlest, found him in bed reading. “Where is everyone, honey?” He looked up and answered, “We all went to bed, Mom, because you’re the party.”

That’s it, I thought to myself. This woman has achieved life’s highest honor. She is the party. She is the heartbeat. She is the reason for gathering. She is the celebration. If there is a more important role in life, I do not know what it is.

For days, I thought about that ultimate compliment spoken by a little boy about his mother. In fact, I became a little obsessed with it. Could I be the party? The question frequently popped into my mind in the following days …

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The 3-Second Pause That Can Save a Morning & Spare Some Pain

"What becomes available to us when we greet one another as fully human?
" - Margaret Wheatley

“What becomes available to us when we greet one another as fully human?
– Margaret Wheatley


I wish I hadn’t taken my husband’s coffee pot and smashed it in the sink. I knew it the moment I steadied my shaking hands against the metal basin filled with jagged slivers of glass.

Regret hurts.

I wish I hadn’t peeled out of the gravel parking lot simply because things weren’t going according to plan. I knew it the moment my baby in the backseat began to cry.

Regret burns.

I wish I hadn’t run through the pouring rain, cussing and screaming about not being able to find my vehicle in a lot of thousands. I knew it the moment my daughter looked up at me with fearful eyes and asked if I was okay.

Regret aches.

I could go on. My list of overreactions is long, and it is shameful. I’d always liked to have things go just right, but during my highly distracted, stretched-too-thin, over-committed and under-rested years, overreaction became my middle name. And regret was right there beside it. Regret follows on the heels of overreaction every single time.

These unbecoming incidents—the coffee pot, the gravel-spitting tires, and the parking lot confusion—have resurfaced in my mind lately. Although they happened years ago, I can remember them clearly now, more clearly than ever.

I remember being so upset that I was unable to think straight. I remember coming so undone that I couldn’t get myself back together. I remember detesting myself in those moments. I remember wanting to run away. But most of all, I remember not wanting to be that person anymore. Regret can be a powerful motivator.

How did I begin to choose calm over crazed, reasonable over senseless, composed over fuming? One of my strategies was making a conscious effort to spot the “flowers” instead of the “weeds” in situations and in people. Another tactic was adopting a mantra to silence my inner bully. Whenever a critical thought came to mind, I immediately interrupted it with the phrase, “Only Love Today”. Another tactic was to envision my angry words like a car crash, inflicting damage to the person on the receiving end. But it wasn’t until one week ago, after thinking about several embarrassing outbursts from my past, that I realized there is something else I do. I give myself a 3-second preview of how a situation could play out if I choose controlling hostility over peaceful compassion.

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The Manager in My Home & the Five Words that Changed Everything

manager 1 HFM

Every couple of weeks I patiently untangle the knots of strawberry-blonde hair that sit at the base of my child’s neck. As I sat on the corner of the tub the other night gently loosening an especially stubborn clump while my daughter chattered about her day, I couldn’t stop the tears.

Those wet tangles I held in my hand were tangible signs of progress—tangible proof that letting go can happen even in the most problematic hearts. My wish is that by sharing where I once was and where I am now, others will feel hope they didn’t feel in awhile. Perhaps by reading about my messy, tangles of progress, others will see their own. This is my story …

There was a time in my life when I barked orders more often than I spoke words of love … when I reacted to small everyday inconveniences as if they were major catastrophes … when normal human habits and quirks raised my blood pressure to dangerous levels.

Rather than nurturing my family members, I took it upon myself to manage my family members until there was no room to bend or breathe.

My artistic, busybody, dream-chasing older daughter’s desire to create multiple projects at once, try new recipes, and keep towering stacks of books and magazines by her bedside received disapproving looks on a daily basis.

My stop-and-smell-the-roses younger daughter’s desire to buckle stuffed animals before we departed, accessorize every part of her body before walking out the door, and move at a snail’s pace drew exasperated breaths and annoyed frowns.

My fun-loving, laidback husband’s spontaneous approach to weekend plans and ability to totally chill out got the silent treatment more times that I could count.

The people I was supposed to love unconditionally possessed qualities that irritated, annoyed, and continually derailed my carefully planned agenda—an agenda that was all about efficiency, perfection, and control.

I was not acting as a mother or a wife or even a decent human being. I was acting as a surly manager who was intent on creating a toxic environment—a place where it was pretty hard to show up each and every day.

How do I know?

Because even I could barely stand myself. The impatient person I’d become woke up angry and irritated as I braced myself for another day of managing the unmanageable. Forget about living. Forget about smiling. Forget about counting the blessings. The Grumpy Manager didn’t do that. And everyone in the home began following suit.

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To Build (or Crush) a Dream

dreamer #HFM
There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly. -R. Buckminster Fuller

When I get in front of a classroom of children, I am home. I was a special education teacher for ten years before I became a full-time author and speaker. On occasion, my two passions—writing and teaching children—collide. I go into these situations on high alert. If there is ever a time to pay very close attention, it is in a classroom. Because if I do, I know I will be the one to walk away educated and inspired.

Recently I had the opportunity to speak at my daughters’ new school. I was prepared to be enlightened. I was not disappointed.

This is my story …

My presentation for both second and fifth graders consisted of two parts. The first part described the steps I took to achieve my childhood dream of becoming a published author. The second part of my presentation was a lesson and group exercise on descriptive writing.

As I spoke to the children, my teacher training quickly spotted the ones who were having trouble sitting still … the ones who were weary to raise their hands but clearly had something to say … the ones who were fiddling with something inside their desk, perhaps thinking of their own passions. I tried to draw the children out, sustain their attention, and create a safe environment where all ideas were accepted and respected. When it was time for the students to craft their own sentences, I was pleased that most of them looked comfortable and engaged.

As the students worked quietly, I was able to interact individually with each one. Their unique personalities surfaced during these brief exchanges—their comments and posture revealing details about their life experiences, their confidence, and their strengths.

As I was preparing to leave the fifth grade classroom, a boy asked for my autograph. This idea started a trend. As the children lined up with blank notebook paper in hand, I felt compelled to write more than my name or “Live Hands Free.” In black Sharpie I wrote, “Go after your dreams!” Then I paused and asked each child, “What is your dream?”

Every single child had an answer.
There were no hesitations.
There were no duplications.

Every single child, no matter how reserved or how outgoing … no matter how serious or how silly … no matter how neat or disheveled, had a dream. And more importantly, every child had a twinkle in the eye when speaking about it.

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A Daily Goal with Life-Changing Results

I hope after spending an hour … a day … a lifetime in my presence, I leave your heart fuller, your smile wider, your spirit stronger your future brighter than you could have ever imagined by yourself.   -Rachel Macy Stafford

I hope after spending an hour … a day … a lifetime in my presence,
I leave your heart fuller,
your smile wider,
your spirit stronger
your future brighter
than you could have ever imagined by yourself.
-Rachel Macy Stafford

*name & story have been used with permission

A little over four years ago I started my Hands Free journey to let go of distraction and grasp the moments that mattered. It became my daily practice to write down the little moments of meaningful connection that I would’ve missed had I remained tethered to my devices, pressures, and regrets. What I experienced during my designated Hands Free pockets of time was so powerful I knew it was meant to be shared. I started publishing my daily Hands Free successes and failures on a blog. This helped me stay accountable to my goal—to live more and love more in the precious time that I’d been given. But there was more. My willingness to share my story was unexpectedly reciprocated. Each day for the past four years, I’ve heard from people I do not know. But they tell me their stories and inspire me in ways I could not be inspired alone.

Recently I opened my inbox to this:

“I have you to thank for the light bulb that lit up inside of me that turned into a flaming inferno of wanting to connect with my children. I have you to thank for the belly laugh (the best laugh that I have had with my oldest in years) that I would have missed had I not been in a ‘Hands Free Zone’ that I’ve designated and stuck to. I have you to thank for the wall in my kitchen (which is against my obsessive compulsive nature) that I have posted blog entries and favorite quotes from your book. This wall is what I look at when my baby is crying so loudly that I want to rip my hair out—your words are the caution cones that tell me to slow down and embrace my screaming baby and laugh. I have you to thank for my life, my children’s lives, and the amazing mom that I never knew I could become to them. I have you to thank for raising me from the dead; for that I will be eternally grateful. Thank you for saving me.”


This message was written by a single, full-time working student/mother. I could see her in her kitchen. Her eyes weary from lack of sleep … baby food stains on the front of her shirt … her older child’s homework splayed across the counter along with bills and school reminder notes. I could see her trying … trying … trying. I did not know this woman, but I adored her.

Attached to the e-mail message was Fallon’s completed assignment for her psychology class. It was a short description of her fall semester goal: Keep Things Simple. To her this meant trying to avoid “overwhelm” which she knew had a negative impact on her mood, her progress, her sleep and of course, her children. “Keep Things Simple means not sweating the small stuff, getting tasks completed in a timely manner, not over exaggerating, and eliminating unnecessary stress to enjoy my life to the fullest,” she wrote.

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A Target for Life

A Target for Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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