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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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…]

Take a Look In My Closet

My friend, Lori, doing what she does best.

A few years ago, I had a small group of women over to my home for dinner. My husband and I had resided in this location for about six months, and I had enjoyed getting to know these particular ladies and wanted to know them better.

I will never forget when one of the women inadvertently opened the closet door instead of the pantry to discard her trash.

Much to my embarrassment, an enormous accumulation of “crap” fell from the sky. She protected her face from flying cookbooks, outdated school directories, headless Barbie dolls, school projects, half finished scrapbooks, and yes, even a dirty sock.

“Oh my gosh, I am so sorry!” I gasped.

I scrambled to uncover her, hastily brushing off the stale crumbs stuck to her forehead that had fallen off the completely over-used recipe for Mom’s Banana Bread that had also descended from the closet.

I will never forget the look on her face.

Relief.

Pure and simple relief.

She looked me in the eye and said, “You don’t know how happy this makes me. Thank God, you aren’t perfect after all!”

I hugged her tightly and we both laughed.

Although I hadn’t yet experienced my Breakdown Breakthrough to begin living “real,” the notion that I appeared perfect (until someone saw the contents of my closet) sat on my shoulder gently reminding me that it’s perfectly OK to be imperfect, in fact, most people welcome it; most people actually embrace it!

But it is not easy to show people the contents of your closet, the messy, unsightly, most unbecoming parts that we can hardly bear to look at ourselves, let alone allow anyone else to see.

I recalled this incident vividly when a former classmate, dear friend, and fellow blogger recently made an announcement.

She posted this message on her blog, “Wisdom Comes Suddenly”:

I’m headed in a new direction here at Wisdom Comes Suddenly, and I hope you’ll like this chapter as much as you’ve enjoyed previous escapades, because this chapter is…um, well to be honest, it’s REAL.  Really…real.  It’s begins with a new affiliate relationship I’ve formed with a company I blogged about one year ago named “Celebrate Calm“.  They specialize in teaching parents behavioral techniques for intense and/or special needs children, i.e. Gifted, ADHD, ODD, OCD, Anxiety Disorders, Asperger’s, Autism, Sensory Integration Disorder, and other learning or emotional disorders.  That being said, I think their techniques are so common sense, they would work on any child.

So here comes the real part: Sara is a special needs child, which would be the first time in 5 years I’ve said that out loud.  I like to refer to her as “high needs,” because for some reason, I find it easier to say.  It’s ambiguous; ambiguous can be comforting when you climb a mountain with a child, only to look up and see another standing in your way. We live with the fuzzy hope that each mountain will be our last.

Sara’s diagnosis list is so long that it truly deserves its own post, and I promise to share that journey in the very near future.  For now, I can tell you she is simply a very intense child who defies all common parenting logic.  We are not alone in parenting an intense child, this much I’ve learned.”

I have been following Lori’s blog for several months now marveling at her brilliance and endless talents. Although I am not “crafty,” I enjoy her creative “20 minute” sewing projects that turn a piece of scrap into a sleeping bag for a doll (or a cat, if it is cooperative). I drool over her organic dinner menus and homemade pies that would give Paula Dean a run for her money. And I enjoy seeing Lori transform an ordinary room into something from a vintage bed and breakfast for next to nothing.

But most of all, I love the warm and fuzzy feeling I receive each time I am invited into the beautiful life Lori has created in a home where love always comes first.

And when I had a chance to look in her closet to see the messy, difficult, disorganized, and unpleasant parts of her life, I loved her even more.

As I read her words on my computer that night, I wiped away the tears. I applauded her courage. I admired her honesty. I anticipated her wisdom and her journey.

And being a writer in a public forum, I couldn’t help but think of Lori, the woman who had to push “publish” on that bad boy.

I can only imagine the hesitation, the deep breath, the anxiety, and the wonder.

Because once you speak the words, you cannot take them back. Being real is not the easy path.

But I would wager to say that every single person who reads of her new chapter feels a sense of relief.  And like my friend who saw the contents of my closet, a bit of the “thank-God-she’s-not-perfect-after-all” kind of relief. Maybe there is hope for the rest of us, after all.

It is difficult, painful even to discuss the challenges of parenting life. We often withhold information because we think people will judge us or that people will think we are bad parents, but by holding back, you are diminishing your chance to connect with someone who says, “I am going through this, too. Let’s help each other.”

Lori is creating a community. She began by putting herself out there, by being real. And now there is a safe place to lay your worries. There is a safe place to say, “I’m scared.” There is a safe place to say, “I am having a really bad day.” And there is a safe place to say, “Things didn’t quite turn out the way I had planned. Where do I go from here?”

And there will be my friend Lori, reaching out her hand providing encouragement along with humor, along with creative ideas like “I Promise” and “Ear Comforters” that work for her child and might work for yours, too.

Isn’t this what it is all about? Living Real equates to Loving Real. Building a community that allows for scars, blemishes, struggles and messy closets?

Isn’t it when we expose the imperfections that the healing begins?

Isn’t it when we stop hanging on tightly to perfection that we can truly grasp what matters?

Isn’t it when we open our messy closets that the joy, the laughter, and the love can find its way in?

Isn’t it when we show each other our scars that we love each other more?

I think so.

Could those of us reading today become a community of people who embrace and welcome realness? Could “The Hands Free Revolution” become a group of people striving to grasp what really matters by living real and loving real? It starts with me. It starts with you. Open your closet. Uncover your scars. Let the healing light shine in. And while you’re at it, spread the light to someone else by clicking the “share” button below.