Thank you, Not-So-Pleasant Moment in Life

thank you hands free mama

I was riding in a cab in Austin, Texas when she said her tummy hurt.

I was standing in a hotel lobby in San Francisco when she complained of a sprained ankle.

I was sitting on the runway in Detroit when she described the pain in her left ear.

And while on the last leg of my book tour in Toronto, she called to say, “My throat hurts. I think I have strep,” in the most pathetic voice I’d ever heard.

Normally, such dismal medical updates from my seven-year-old would have sounded like fingernails on a chalkboard, but while on the road, I came to relish those calls.

That little whiny voice on the other end of the line brought comfort to this lonely mama’s soul. That little voice was HOME—safety, security, and familiarity. It surprised me that I was relishing these phone calls because they surely didn’t represent the best parts of home. But as I offered assurances to my child hundreds of miles away, I realized something significant about the whiny, messy, unpredictable moments. They are what make home a home and a life a life. They are what make up my life … my one precious life.

Before my book tour began, I professed my fear of television interviews, large metropolitan areas, and speaking in front of big groups of people. Little did I know the angst I would experience while being away from home. Although I managed to get comfortable in front of the camera and learned to navigate my way through large airports and cities, I never got accustomed to being away from home. But as most of you know, there is something quite profound that happens when you miss something so badly it hurts.

You gain appreciation.

You gain perspective.

You grasp what really matters.

Just when I thought my Hands Free journey could not open my eyes any wider to what really mattered in life, I began seeing what I could not see before: Glimmers of Goodness in the mundane, the mess, and the mayhem … Glimmers of Goodness in the exaggeratedly dramatic sprained ankles and the never-ending doses of Amoxicillin.

And a tragedy didn’t have to strike in order for me to see all the goodness.

And for that, I am eternally grateful.

So now I must share it. This newfound perspective I gained while on the road may help someone else discover life’s daily blessings among the distractions and challenges of life. I call this approach “Glimmers of Goodness.” Because having a full and complete day of goodness is hard, maybe even impossible, with life’s daily stresses of children, bills, schedules, deadlines, responsibilities, and pressures. But finding Glimmers of Goodness within a day is possible—even when you are irritated, annoyed, or frustrated. In fact, it is in times of overwhelm that I can find these bright spots most easily. It may sound odd, but I’ve been taking each not-so-pleasant experience or feeling and thanking it. And from that place of gratitude, I find a Glimmer of Goodness. Take a look …

Glimmers of Goodness

Thank you, hurried morning. It is in the hunt for shoes, library books, and backpacks that I appreciate the slow Saturday. I shall pay attention and appreciate the Slow Saturday.

Thank you, perpetually dirty house. It is in finding rumpled sheets, toothpaste blobs, and abandoned socks that I appreciate the evidence of life being lived.  I shall pay attention and appreciate Life Being Lived.

Thank you, aging face. It is in finding another gray hair and another laugh line that I appreciate the gift of another day. I shall pay attention and appreciate the Gift Another Day.

Thank you, stop-and-smell-the-roses child. It is when I take life at your pace that I notice the unnoticable. I shall pay attention and appreciate Noticing the Unnoticable.

Thank you, free-spirited child. It is in experiencing everything a little faster, a little louder, and a little riskier that I appreciate the courage it takes to be bold. I shall pay attention and appreciate Being Bold.

Thank you, sensitive soul. It is in experiencing everything a little deeper and a little more quietly that I see the beauty of a tender heart. I shall pay attention and appreciate the Tender Heart.

Thank you, pang of guilt. It is in wishing that I did things differently that I appreciate the opportunity of Second Chances. I shall pay attention and appreciate Second Chances.

Thank you, disappointment. It is in experiencing let down that I appreciate the fact that I had the courage to try. I shall pay attention and appreciate the Courage to Try.

Thank you, daily challenge. It is in looking straight into the face of sorrow, struggle, fear, frustration, heartache, and worry that I appreciate the fact I keep showing up. I shall pay attention and appreciate the fact that I Keep Showing Up.

And I will keep showing up.

Because there are Glimmers of Goodness in each day if I pay attention. Even the bad moments have some good in them when I stand back and view them from a distance.

Because with a little perspective,

And a little appreciation,

I can see that even the not-so-pleasant moments make a home a home … and a life a life.

My life.

My one precious life.

And a tragedy didn’t have to strike for me to see it.

Thank you, whiny voice on the other end of the line. It is in hearing every ache and pain in your precious body that I appreciate We Are Alive. I shall pay attention and appreciate the fact that We Are Alive.

And because of that incredibly momentous fact, I shall use today to grasp as many Glimmers of Goodness as I can find.

thank you handsfree mama 3

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Friends, tell me how you find Glimmers of Goodness in your day. Tell me what life experiences provided you with life-changing perspective. Your stories are like gold to me and to those who read the comment section of this incredible community. When we see each other’s scars, we love each other more. That’s what I believe. There is so much to be gained by sharing our hearts. Thank you for being here.

If you’ve ever wanted to ask me question about living Hands Free or about writing a book, here is your chance! On Wednesday, March 19th at 1pm ET, I am participating in a Live Author Chat sponsored by FaithGateway. You can submit your questions via Twitter and I will answer them LIVE on the Google Hangout in real-time. (Only the author and host are on camera. You just watch and listen – you don’t need a webcam for these chats.) Click here to register and learn more. 

Friends, the book tour for HANDS FREE MAMA enabled me to meet so many incredible people, answer thought-provoking questions, and experience many Hands Free revelations. With the incredible national and international response to my new book, I find I am in need of rest, reflection, and rejuvenation. So in honor of my children’s spring break beginning next week, I will be taking a two-week break from blogging to spend time with my family and document the incredible experiences I had while on my book tour. You can look forward to a new blog post the week of April 7th. Thank you for supporting my commitment to authentically LIVE the Hands Free life that I write about!

 *For beautiful reminders to live Hands Free, be sure and check out the Hands Free Shop to see the gorgeous bracelets & hand-lettered prints that would make unique & meaningful gifts for Easter and Mother’s Day this spring. To go to the shop, click here. I am truly grateful to all who are giving my book as birthday gifts and gifts to new parents. Thank you for spreading the Hands Free message of hope far and wide! 

 

When You Get it Right … and When You Don’t

what's right 2 handsfree mama

“I must have done something right,” the father of a nineteen-year-old young lady was telling me after having fixed my troublesome garage door.

Although his daughter had drifted a bit during her early teen years, she was now coming over to her parents’ house on the weekends and was genuinely enjoying spending time with her parents again.

The repairman’s eyes lit up when he talked about the renewed relationship with his daughter. He seemed relieved about how things had turned out.

“I must have done something right,” he had said a few minutes earlier.

His oldest daughter is nineteen. My oldest daughter is ten. I don’t want to wait nine years to know whether or not I’ve done something right. Because now is when I need to hear it.

Now—when I am in smack dab in the middle of raising her.

Now—when I feel the pressure to examine every choice I make, wondering how these choices will affect her now and in the future.

Now—when I want to trust my gut and live by heart rather than simply go along with mainstream opinion or “expert” advice.

Now—when I need little glimmers of hope to cling to each day.

So I decided not to wait.

Each day for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been looking for a little rightness—a little what-is-right-in-my-world.

Notice I say “a little.” Because what I am talking about is practically unnoticeable. It’s hardly note-worthy. And it’s definitely not anything worthy of public sharing—at least not according to societal standards. But that’s why it’s working for me. That’s why it’s encouraging to me. Because looking for what is right in my world – in my day – in my hour – is far more encouraging than looking for what is “right” in my world according to social media, societal standards, or popular opinion.

I invite you to take a look. Maybe this list will inspire you to see what is right in your world today.

[Read more...]

Enough

enough handsfree mama

Sometimes I find myself sitting behind the wheel of the car thinking,
Enough.
Enough with the bickering.
Enough with the chauffeuring, the gas-guzzling, the bumper-to-bumper.
Enough with the gum wads stuck between cracker-crumb filled crevices where nice leather seats used to be.
Enough, I say. Enough.

Sometimes I find myself staring at my reflection in the mirror thinking,
Enough.
Enough with the wrinkles, the puffiness, and the sleep-deprived eyes.
Enough with the loose skin and the unstoppable gray hairs.
Enough with the laugh lines that look anything but happy.
Enough, I say. Enough.

Sometimes I find myself standing in front of an open refrigerator thinking,
Enough.
Enough with the meal prep: morning, noon, and night.
Enough with the picky eater, the slow eater, the dirty dishes, and lack of counter space.
Enough with finding the unachievable balance of nutritious and kid-approved.
Enough, I say. Enough.

Sometimes I find myself gazing at photos of tropical beaches and secluded getaways thinking,
Enough.
Enough with the perpetual ticking clock,
Enough with the steady stream of demands, the dust bunnies, and missing library books.
Enough with the needs of others that never seem to be satisfied.
Enough, I say. Enough.

But then something happens to pull me out of my negative abyss and set my head on straight.

[Read more...]

Today Let Me Appreciate

“To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven.” -Johannes A. Gaertner

The message came in late one night. My husband and I had just arrived home from a wonderful evening with dear friends. Thanks to the lingering warmth of flavorful sangria and the company of those I love, I felt peaceful and relaxed. But in less than sixty seconds, a five-sentence message turned my blood ice cold. My hands, hovering over the keyboard, began to shake. The words on the screen became blurred through my tears.

There were few details included in the message. But in this case, details were simply not needed. A reader of my blog was telling me her child had been murdered in August.

Each day I read – no, make that skim over – this eight-letter word in the news. But tonight there was no skimming. I read it over and over and over again. There was something about reading it here, in my inbox, from a dear soul one email message away that grabbed me in a chokehold. Murdered. For a few moments, I forgot to breathe.

And then I went there—crossing that line of “what if” and for one split second tried and to imagine if my child …

I can’t even type the words.

And cowardly, I couldn’t even imagine such devastation … so I quickly retreated back to the safety of here and now. I bolted upstairs, taking two steps at a time, to get to my precious children. I found them, as I prayed, peacefully sleeping in their beds. With each child, I rested my head on her chest just to feel her breath, just to feel her life.

In that moment, I made a silent vow to my dear reader one email message away that I would not say: “There are no words.”

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When Sweat Meets Tears

I applied extra strength deodorant…three times.

I had an arsenal of frozen water bottles in my possession.

I donned airy, Dri-fit clothing that allowed for optimal air circulation.

Every single hair on my head was secured as far away from the back of my neck as possible.

I slathered myself with the recommended amount of sunscreen and pulled down my baseball cap.

I applied one more coat of deodorant in huge strokes, reaching far outside the usual areas of application.

Was I embarking on a trip to the blazing hot center of the earth?

No.

Was I heading to the first swim meet of the summer season?

Yes.

And I was dreading it.

I like to be hot about as much as I like to drive in unfamiliar territory. (If you want a good laugh, check out my “Trip to Nowhere” post.)

And when you are talking summer swim meet, in Alabama, at four o’clock in the afternoon, you are talking The Three P’s of Hotness:

Prolonged Hotness (four hours, but who’s counting?)

Pronounced Hotness (103 degrees that particular day)

Penetrating Hotness (sweat invades places in your body you did not know sweat could go)

And what sealed my dread with a nice sweaty little kiss was the fact that it would be my first experience as a swim meet “timer.” This means you don’t simply sit in hotness waiting for your child’s brief 20 second swim performance in between hours of other events, you STAND in hotness with a timer and clipboard hoping you don’t miss your child’s 20 second swim performance.

Did I mention I was dreading it?

Before the meet began, timers were called forward for a brief training on their duties.

By this time, I was already perspiring from the process of carrying three heavy bags packed with towels, clothing, and an array of activities to combat boredom from the parking lot to the pool deck.

The sweat dripped down the side of my neck, which in fact, possessed four painful red indentations created by the straps of three lawn chairs and one cooler that I somehow managed to carry along with the bags.

My four-year-old would make sure I noted that I did not have to carry everything; she kindly carried her own Polly Pocket bag, which could actually be defined as “heavy” considering it’s filled with small dolls and clothes that have been collected over a five year period.

(And yes, I pause here to admit there is a slight problem with over packing for swim meets that I promise I am working on…I really am.)

So while I awaited my timer training, we were told to pair up with a partner who would hit “go” on his or her timer at the same time we did to ensure our results were correct.

In my irritable “sweatiness,” I was in no mood to make “friends” with anyone.

I surveyed the partner prospects and set my sights on the quiet looking dad standing off by himself.

I hoped fate would smile on me, leading him to walk over and offer to be my partner.

No luck.  Instead, I got the bubbly and ever–so-friendly mom who quickly held out her hand and introduced herself.

Things were not going as planned.

We were then instructed on the timing process and assigned our positions. I was in lane three, positioned directly beneath the scorching hot sun and squeezed between the diving block, the disqualifying judge and my new timer “friend,” Sarah.

In other words, I was tucked in a nice and cozy spot where I could not move my extremities and air would never have the chance to reach me.

As my skin began to sizzle, I looked up to see if a magnifying glass had been placed over my head.

Finally, the age six and under swimmers were called to the blocks. My timer finger was ready and hit “go” at the moment I heard the start buzzer.

When the pint-sized swimmers finally reached the other side, timers were required to ask them their name to ensure we were recording the right time for the right child.

Most of the six-year-old swimmers seemed confused by this question. Some stared at me blankly. Others looked around to see if I was really talking to them. One child even replied, “I don’t know.”

It was going to be a LONG night.

After the next few heats, it was my daughter’s turn. She was in my lane. I felt a sharp pang of excitement knowing I was in a perfect position to see her swim.

From my post, I marveled at her speed, the formation of her arms, the quickness of breaths.  I clocked her time AND managed to give her a congratulatory hug. The smile on her face indicated she was very happy I was the first face that greeted her on the other side.

For a brief moment, 19.24 seconds to be exact, I forgot about the threat of heat stroke.

After the age eight and under swimmers concluded the freestyle event, timers moved to the other side of the pool.

The older children are required to do a 50 or 100 yard swim, which means we were able to ask the swimmers their name before they swam.

Coincidentally, the first girl I asked possessed the same name as my daughter. How could I not cheer for her?

Once I hit “go” on the timer, I found myself cheering for a girl I didn’t know, but had a name that I love.

In that moment, I made the decision to do that for all the competitors in my lane. I figured that since I was privy to the swimmers’ names, I might as well cheer for them.

Once the seconds started on my timer, I supportively called out the name of the child swimming his or her heart out in the lane before me.

When the swimmers got out of the pool, they always wanted to know what their time was.

Perhaps it was the teacher in me or perhaps it was the hopeful look on their dripping wet faces, but I didn’t just tell them their time; I also told them what a good job they did.

Most swimmers seemed initially surprised that The Timer Lady had words of encouragement, yet they all smiled in return.

As I clocked each swimmer’s ending time, my timer partner and I compared. There were never any discrepancies in our times; there was no drama. We developed a perfect rhythm between timing, recording, and being ready for the next heat.

We even had time to engage in a little small talk.

I found myself enjoying the company of a woman who had a gorgeous smile and displayed a beautiful connection with each of her two daughters as they periodically came by for a quick hug.

About half way through the meet, I couldn’t believe the time. Two hours had flown past. The sun had dipped down below the side of the building; I was basking in the glorious shade. I even noticed the hint of a slight breeze in the air.

It was then that something monumental occurred to me.

I was standing in the front row of life’s greatest moments:

A child’s determined face as she wills every ounce of her body, heart, and soul to touch the victory wall.

A new swimmer pleading with his little five-year-old arms and legs to just keep going as all the on-lookers cheer his name….

An enthusiastic coach high-fiving his swimmers and reminding them to have fun…

A serious young competitor catching a glimpse of her parents at the end of her lane and suddenly breaking into a smile…

A teenage swimmer reaching out to his long-time opponent to offer a good luck handshake…

A swimmer’s dedication to her sport so evident in her defined muscles and incredible endurance…

A nervous little brother being hugged and encouraged by his older, more aquatically experienced, sister…

Happy healthy children,

Proud and loving parents,

Sunshine and fresh air,

Laughter and conversation,

All here in one place for me to witness, absorb, and celebrate.

And I had a spot in the front row where I could not only feel the splash of the entrance, but the emotion of the exit…the beautiful, heart-warming emotion of the exit.

Around eight o’clock p.m., I found myself collecting The Stafford Family’s 199 entertainment and beverage items scattered about our “camp.” That is when I had another realization.

I realized I must really learn to wear flat shoes; I realized I was so hungry that I might even consider eating “food” from the concession stand; I realized there was an atrocious smell in the air that was coming from me.

But I also realized my heart was full.

And I can’t get that feeling just anywhere.

I had to go where I did not want to go in order to get to a place I long to be…

A place of gratitude,

A place of contentment,

A place of awe,

A place of harmony…

And next time I have the opportunity to go that extraordinary place, I think I will try not to kick and scream the whole way there.

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We all have activities and responsibilities in our life that we rather not do. Yet, a negative inner dialogue of dread and complaint merely becomes a distraction from the gifts of that experience. And there are gifts in every experience we have in life; even if the only positive aspect you can come up with is, “I am alive to witness this experience.”

Being alive is definitely worth celebrating, don’t you think?

*When I need to be reminded of the gift that is simply being alive, I visit the beautifully painful writings of Jo Julia. Jo is coming upon the first anniversary of her husband’s death. At Dear Audrey, Jo writes letters to her young daughter about her daddy, about death, and about life.