12 Daily Vows to Grasp What Matters This Holiday

12 daily vows 4 for a Hands Free holidayMy holiday goal has changed over the years. My former goal for December 25th involved boxes—checking off boxes, wrapping up boxes, and stuffing emotions in a box until they came out in some negative form or another. My former holiday goal focused on how things looked rather than on how they felt. From the outside, it looked like picture-perfect happiness but underneath was exhaustion … comparison … irritation … stress … and frustration. I would collapse after Christmas not really having one significant memory to cherish because I’d been too busy, too annoyed, too distracted, and too overwhelmed.

But at the close of 2010, I received a powerful wake-up call that changed my holiday goal indefinitely.

In the days following our family’s Christmas, my mom had a transient ischemic attack (or mini-stroke) and was unable to remember the holiday we’d just shared together. It had been a very special holiday because it was my first Hands Free holiday. I’d let go of distraction and perfection in ways I didn’t think I ever could. One of my fondest memories of that Christmas was sitting at the kitchen table with my family painting glasses to use at our Christmas Eve dinner. It was ten o’clock a.m. and we were still in our pajamas. We’d eaten cookies for breakfast. My older daughter wore evidence of this delightful indulgence on her face but I didn’t dare wipe it off. The way she smiled to herself as she painted was a moment I refused to obliterate with a paper napkin. For the first time in a long time I saw joy, and it had paint-smudged fingers and lips covered in chocolate.

There was much to be done in the way of cooking and gift preparation that morning, but it could wait. For the first time in a long time, it could wait. Instead I sat there painting next to my children who were free to paint their glasses any way they wanted. I’d made it clear to my inner drill sergeant that she was not welcome here. My mom sat with us too. Her vein-lined hand was steady as she painted a flower on her glass. She talked of the small Christmas candies she got as a girl. There was holiday music playing. I felt peaceful, not frenzied. I felt beautiful, not too soft or unkempt. I felt present, not scattered in one hundred million different directions.
12 vows paintingThere’d been more laughter, more connections, and more memories made that Christmas than ever before. And my mom couldn’t remember them, but I could. Thank God, I could. Right then and there I knew that the holidays must be Hands Free from then on. I vowed to stop worrying so much about the minor details and think about the big picture. What will my loved ones remember about today? That became my daily question over our holiday breaks. I knew it would not be the roasted potatoes being seasoned with fresh rosemary or the twinkle lights that decorated the staircase. It would be the way I got down and peered into the new dollhouse and said, “Can I play too?” It would be the walk I took with my mom and sister, going slowly because my mom needed a gentle pace. It would be how I asked my dad to tell me again about his darkest period of depression and how he saw the light again. It would be how I watched my husband’s favorite football team because there was an open spot next him, and it was made for me.

I knew I didn’t want to be so busy flittering from point A to point Z that I missed the opportunity to hear the stories, take the walks, or get down on my knees and play. I wanted to decorate glasses in my pajamas instead of dusting crystal in my finest attire. What will my loved ones remember today? I hoped it would be my love, my presence, my patience, and my laugh. I wanted more than anything for them to remember my laugh.
12 vows laughingI now have four Hands Free holidays under my belt and although I am still a work-in-progress, I think I’ve finally nailed down my goal for the holidays. It is this: To gather together with our messy, imperfect hearts and create memories that outlast us all.

But here’s the thing: goals are not reached without intention, mindfulness, and action steps. So I have written some daily vows that I believe will help me get as close as I can to a meaningful and memorable holiday goal. Feel free to use one or more of these daily intentions to create more room in your holiday for love, laughter, connection, and memory making.

12 Daily Vows to Grasp What Matters This Holiday

Today I will look for the blessings among the chaos, the challenge, and the clutter. If I don’t see them right away, I will keep looking.

Today I will say, “Take your time,” and “How would you do it?” even if it feels funny and awkward coming from my lips. I will seek to find my loved ones’ Soul-Building Words and speak them often.

12 vows baby JesusToday I will view holiday experiences through the eyes of my child so my eyes can see the puffiness of the marshmallows, not the spilled cocoa … so my eyes can see the handmade ornaments, not the crooked tree … so my eyes can see the way her face lights up at the sight of the gift, not the wrapping paper covering the floor.

Today I will be a Lingerer, a Take Your Timer, and a Last to Let Go Embracer even if I have to fake it. Love will keep me coming back until I can be the real deal.

12 vows tree

Today I will take off the manager nameplate and dismiss the inner bully so my home can be a loving environment where we are all learning from our mistakes and embracing our imperfections.

Today I will resist the pressure to fill the sacred spaces of my day with unnecessary stuff.

Today I will say no to the outside world so I can say yes to the people who are my world.

12 vows sunlight

Today I will savor every bite of my family’s favorite recipes instead of obsessing over table decor, fat grams, or how soon the mess can be cleaned up.

Today I will absorb the memories of my relatives shared across the dinner table instead of consuming myself with status updates of those I barely know on a screen.


Today I will acknowledge that a beautifully imperfect memory is at my fingertips if I pause long enough to let it unfold.

Today I will remember my loved ones are constantly growing and changing and things may be different next year. In fact, things may be different tomorrow. So today I shall savor my loved ones as they are right now.

12 vows ponytail

Today I will practice my new holiday goal: To gather together with our messy, imperfect hearts and create memories that outlast us all.

I know that every second of this holiday will not be grasping what matters. I know. But there will be moments when joy comes to the table. It might be wearing pajamas or a cookie crumb smile, but I will recognize it immediately. With open hands, open eyes, and an open heart, I’ve learned joy doesn’t come in a box.

12 vows joy doesn't come in a box


My friends, thank you for making 2014 such an incredibly encouraging year for me as a writer. By reading and sharing my posts here and on The Hands Free Revolution page and by purchasing my book and the items in the Hands Free Shop, you have enabled me to make writing my life’s work. Your incredible support has lead to the publication of a second book, HANDS FREE LIFE, releasing on September 8, 2015. I am thrilled and blessed to have begun working with my publisher on a third book. Thanks to all who expressed their interest in me writing a Hands Free daily inspiration book. I read and cherish every comment you write and every email message you send. Thank you for being a continuous blessing on this life-changing Hands Free journey. I could not do this without you. My publisher is currently having an ebook sale and HANDS FREE MAMA is on sale for $2.99 until January 4th, 2015. Click here

It is now time to power off. My screen is going dark until January. I leave you with my two all-time favorite blog posts to grasp what really matters during the holidays and beyond. See you in 2015! 

The Twelve Days of Fatherhood

35 Gifts Your Children Will Never Forget

Live More, Love More Thanksgiving Recipe


For every exasperated breath, let there be two minutes of uncontrollable laughter.

For every impatient “hurry up,” let there be one leisurely “take your time.”

For every worry about the condition of your home, let there be a friend who reminds you that your décor is not why you are loved.

For every grudge you’ve been holding, let there be one act of forgiveness.

act of forgiveness HFM

For every complaint, let there be gratitude for two blessings.

For every minute spent holding an electronic device, let there be ten minutes holding a deck of cards, a musical instrument, or someone else’s hand.

For every duty checked off the list, let there be a spontaneous dance party in the kitchen or a snowball fight in the backyard.

For every new item brought into the home, let there be one offering of time, talent, money, or gently used item to a heart in need.

giving away HFM

For every irritated thought towards a rude driver, let there be one smile offered to a stranger.

For every family squabble, let there be a group hug.

For every accidental spill, let there be an extra serving of grace.

For every moment spent ridiculing your body, let there be one praise for arms that carry the weight, no matter how heavy.

heart inside you HFM

For every moment you give the gift of yourself to the ones you love, let there be a memory that lasts beyond your lifetime.

With open hands, open eyes, and an open heart, this holiday can be different than in year’s past.

Because now you know this day doesn’t have to be perfect—not even close.

This day is not about basting the perfect turkey … or getting the flawless family photo … or polishing the floors until they shine. This day is about gathering together with our messy, flawed human hearts in an effort to make happy memories that will outlive us all.

open hands, open eyes

Whether you follow this recipe to a T or simply pick and choose the ingredients that work for you, there will be a noticeable difference.

For the first time in a long time, you will lay your head on the pillow at night and you will not replay that family spat … you will not wonder what you could have done to improve the cranberry sauce … your feet will not be throbbing because you never sat down.

Oh no, this time it will be different.

Because now you know you must let go of what doesn’t matter in order to grasp what does matter.

hug HFM

For the first time in a long time, you will lay your head on the pillow and say, “Today I tasted the sweetest part of life.”

And that messy, flawed heart beating inside you will feel peacefully and imperfectly full.

In order to grasp what matters most, we must let go of what doesn’t. Thank goodness, it’s never too late to try this life-changing recipe to taste the sweetest part of life.

last pic HFM


My friends, holidays can be stressful. And for some of you, this particular holiday season is especially hard. Someone is missing. Circumstances have changed. Stress is high. But goodness is still here. As long as you are still breathing, goodness is still here. Using this recipe will increase your chances of experiencing these moments of goodness. Feel free to modify the recipe according to your circumstances. Even small efforts to show up “as is” and love “as is” can make a noticeable difference. Please share your stories, struggles, and plans to let go and live this holiday. Every time you comment, someone else feels a little less alone.

My friends, I am thankful for you. Words cannot express how grateful I am for your companionship on this journey … for loving me “as is”… and for encouraging my writer’s heart with your loving affirmations. May the sweetest aspect of life—to love and be loved—be experienced by you and your family this holiday season.

*The blog and The Hands Free Revolution page will be quiet for the remainder of the week as I spend time investing in what matters most. While I am away, be sure and check out Rebecca Eanes’ enlightening and supportive page, Positive Parenting: Toddlers and Beyond. Rebecca is celebrating “a quarter of a million strong” community by having four days of giveaways of positive parenting books and resources. Included in the celebration are a Hands Free leather bracelet and a copy of my New York Times Bestseller, Hands Free Mama. I am grateful for Rebecca and the important work she does to help parents connect to their children! 


Before Today Ends

before today ends handsfreemama.com

Today I hear …

Whining about her sister having a bigger scoop.
Slamming doors.
The relentless buzz of the dryer–a load needs folded … again.

But I also hear …

“This dinner ‘tasteses’ good, Mama.”
The C-chord sounding a bit like heaven on a tiny ukulele.
Tender, loving words in her sleepy bedtime voice.

This is what my life sounds like today.
And if I close my eyes and listen very carefully, that which sounds heavenly can overpower the noise.

Today I see …

Wet towels carelessly abandoned upon the bathroom floor.
Toothpaste blobs inhabiting the sink.
Weeds where flowers used to be.

But I also see …

Gentle hands putting dolls tenderly in their place.
A hole where a tooth used to be—her last baby tooth to go.
A love note written in kid penmanship resting on my pillow.

This is what my life looks like today.
And if I open my eyes and look very carefully, that which appears divinely perfect can outshine the mess.

[Read more…]

When Life Isn’t Pretty

“I want to see beauty. In the ugly, in the sink, in the suffering, in the daily, in all the days before I die, the moments before I sleep.” –Ann Voskamp

“I want to see beauty. In the ugly, in the sink, in the suffering, in the daily, in all the days before I die, the moments before I sleep.” –Ann Voskamp

*name has been changed

Just before the new year, a popular monthly publication requested permission to publish “Loving a Child Through the Challenges of Life” in their spring edition.  As if this opportunity weren’t surreal enough, it would include a photo shoot and a video interview.

The child in me – the one who spent hours filling notebooks in her lemon-yellow bedroom – was giddy at the thought of my writing being published in a magazine that my parents and grandmother often read. But what thrilled me even more was that the message of hope contained in the article would reach a worldwide audience.

Little did I know this experience would offer another chance at letting go to grasp what really matters in life.

This is my story …

[Read more…]

What a “Hands Free” Fall Looks Like

It all started with an innocent glass jar filled with heavy cream.

I watched as my 9-year-old daughter shook and shook with excitement until … ta-da! Real butter! She even made a batch of toast so the whole family could try her succulent creation.

“It has no chemicals, no fake ingredients. This is not processed food; this is called REAL food,” she declared as if taping an infomercial for “The Butter Shaker 5000.”

My 6-year-old daughter needed no persuasion; her small hand, which happened to fit perfectly inside the jar, went in for another heaping spoonful. Toast was completely unnecessary.

As I watched my children enjoy the natural goodness of this simple culinary treat, I felt a tinge of discomfort. However, I couldn’t pinpoint exactly why I felt such unease.

A few hours later, I discovered my open lap top computer. Posted on the screen was a PowerPoint slide show the kids had created. The title was: “How to Make Halloween Costumes For Kids.” With each click, I watched my youngest child transform from a fairy to a witch, from a “cheer girl” to a scary monster—all with a few stitches of fabric and a whole lot of creativity.

There it was again—that uncomfortable feeling. When I should have been marveling, I felt like crying.

Shouldn’t I be the one making homemade butter?

Shouldn’t I be the one making handmade costumes?

I know, I know. It is so wrong. I’m the one who just weeks ago was declaring the fabulous freedom to raise a child.

But I am human. And I live in the same world you live in—the one where afternoon snacks can resemble palm trees if you arrange the apple slices and carrot sticks just so on the colorful plate … the world where back-to-school means coordinated outfits in earthy tones with unsmudged eye glasses sitting perfectly on bright, shiny faces … the world where organizational cork boards align kitchen walls so you don’t forget the easily forgettable letter sack containing an object that starts with “C.” (Which consequently, I have discovered is an object that is virtually impossible to find at seven o’clock in the morning.)

[Read more…]

What a “Hands Free” Summer Looks Like

feet by #HFMWhen I started writing this blog, I made a promise to myself. I vowed to be the real deal—meaning whether I am being Hands Free or writing about being Hands Free, I promised to be open, honest, and authentic about my successes and shortcomings on this journey to grasp what really matters.

Simply stated, there is no faking Hands Free; there is no half-way Hands Free. Either I’m distracted or I’m present. Trying to mentally and emotionally exist in two places at once is like trying to live life with one hand. And I tried that for two long, draining years—it doesn’t work. I have found that I can only grasp what really matters in life with two free hands and one committed heart.

So with that said, I’ve come to a decision about summer. And I share it with you because we all have responsibilities that beg for our time, attention, and energy.

[Read more…]

The Hands Of Time

There is a special place located in Indiana that was instrumental in setting my Hands Free journey into motion. I wrote about Conner Prairie when I first started this blog. You can read about that day and the Hands Free epiphany that occurred in my post, “Look Up.”

Here I am now, on the verge of celebrating my one-year anniversary of living Hands Free. I don’t think it is a coincidence that I recently had the opportunity to return to the place that got it all started.

Nothing on the Hands Free journey is coincidental.

This is my story…

About a month ago, my daughters and I had the chance to visit Conner Prairie, an interactive history park.

Walking on the rustic grounds of the outdoor museum is truly like going back in time. This is how I described Conner Prairie the first time I wrote about it:

Conner Prairie is designed as a historical town complete with a one-room school house, blacksmith, general store, baby animal barn, and town doctor, just to name a few of the features.

Not only can you walk inside these structures, but the women, men, and children that work there dress and speak according to the time period in which they portray. For a little girl who dreamed of being one of “Pa’s” daughters on “Little House on the Prairie,” I was as excited as my children were about this experience.

Although I visited Conner Prairie just eleven months prior, I felt like I was seeing it with new eyes. No longer am I an outside observer of the slower, simpler, undistracted life that the museum represents, I am a participant. I am a participant.

Eleven months ago, I so desperately wanted to sequester myself in one of their old fashioned hotel rooms, forever abandoning my life of buzzing cell phones, addictive technology, overcrowded calendar boxes, overwhelming requests, and endless to-do-lists.

But I knew I couldn’t stay there forever.

Reluctantly, I walked away from Conner Prairie eleven months ago, but I took something with me. I carried a new awareness, a profound realization: Although it was not possible for me to live in a placid country home of 1822, I was determined to take aspects of this simple, undistracted life and apply it to my own.

Now here I was, almost a year later, back on the fertile soil where my journey began.

So how did I do? Did the Hands Free tactics I incorporated in my daily life in the past eleven months enable me to grasp what really matters? Was I any closer to living life the way my heart yearned to live?

As my daughters and I walked through the historical “town,” stopping to go inside the school house, the hotel, and various old homes, my mind was flooded with Hands Free moments that had occurred over the past year…moments that would never have happened if I hadn’t made a conscious effort to replace daily distraction with moments of simplicity, stillness, and spontaneity.

First, we stopped and spoke to a lovely young woman named “Dorcus” dressed in traditional garb of the 1800s. Her long cotton dress gracefully spilled over the weathered bench on which she sat.

In her hands, she held a small quilt patch pierced with a needle and thread.

I watched in awe as she generously handed over her almost complete sewing project to my eager eight-year-old daughter and began guiding her.

Although Dorcus had clearly spent much time and effort on the creation, keeping it in pristine condition seemed unimportant to her. Apparently, she knew this experience would be much more meaningful and memorable if the children had a chance to try it themselves.

As I witnessed her kind gesture, I was reminded of the times I let go of perfection, as well as the need to get something completed “quickly,” in order to create meaningful experiences and lasting memories for (and with) my children.

I recalled many laughing sessions with my four-year-old laundry helper over the past year. I thought of every dish my daughter and I washed together and the multitude of muffins we baked while sharing with her my favorite childhood memories of baking and cleaning with my own mom.

As my oldest daughter described a potholder she recently made to Dorcus, I reminisced about the many lessons my daughters taught me this past year. I thought of my daughter’s dream of having an actual school in our playroom, the way she chose to sponsor the girl with the broken smile, and the lessons three preschoolers taught me on the day I drove fifty miles in the wrong direction.

By setting aside my own agenda, worries of messes and personal inconveniences, I watched my daughters grasp what matters to them and learned more than I ever could on my own.

Next, we came upon a tiny house derived of white washed wooden planks. Through the cracks in the structure, the most enticing smells escaped. Inside two robust women with perspiring foreheads pinched fragrant dough with strong, thick fingers.

They kindly asked my children if they would like to help prepare meat pies.

My daughters happily accepted the request to help. They were quite apt when it came to rolling the dough and stuffing it with tender meat, but placing it over the fire was a bit intimidating. After all, we bake in a oven, not over an open fire spitting intense flames.

As my daughters bravely attempted to overcome their fear, I was reminded of the moments I had gone beyond my own comfort level in order to grasp what really mattered.

I recalled several puzzles I had (embarrassingly) struggled to put together under the encouraging guidance of my four-year-old, reluctantly getting my hair wet at the pool, choosing a bike ride with my children over Superbowl party prep, and playing the violin after a twenty-year hiatus.

In the past eleven months, I had attempted activities that weren’t really “my thing,” that I didn’t necessarily like to do, but did them in an effort to connect with the people I love.

Next, we headed into the quaint general store. The gruff salesman in a stiff black cotton suit pointed out many tempting items to my wide-eyed daughters who thought they must be dreaming when he announced prices that did not have the word “dollars” at the end.

My oldest daughter gravitated toward a china set in robin’s egg blue and my youngest child drooled over sassafras candy sticks that only cost one cent (even though she had no clue what sassafras was).

My youngest daughter was interested in purchasing a twenty-five cent bag of flour at the general store.

As my daughters carefully examined the interesting items surrounding them, I thought about my own delicate, priceless moments that I was able to witness and absorb in the past year. By slowing down and focusing on the now, instead of racing to the next activity or event, I was able to see exquisite beauty in even the ordinary details of life.

Over the year, I had collected enough hellos to buffer the impending goodbyes I will surely face. I waited joyfully, instead of impatiently and angrily. I watched a humble man get an unexpected gift and a sick child succumb to the peaceful refuge of sleep.

By refusing to let a ticking clock run my life, I was able to slow down and see providential signs everywhere….in the clouds, on windowpanes, and in the eyes of the people I love. I accepted these divine signs as confirmation that I am on the right path leading to what really matters.

Once we toured the outer “town” area of Conner Prairie, the girls summoned us inside to the interactive part of the museum. My mother-in-law took the girls to the papermaking station while I had the pleasure of caring for my eleven-month-old nephew.

I spotted one of those silly mirrors in the dress up area. Knowing how much babies love mirrors, I carried my little dude over. (And I really must mention, my nephew has hair that puts Johnny Depp’s coif to shame and should be admired regularly.)

I slowly peeked his angelic face into the mirror and my cheesiest voice asked, “Where’s Sam?”

From the first glance, he loved it.

With every peek into the mirror, his wheezy, sucking air style of laughing became louder and louder.

On what seemed like the twentieth peek, I realized my nephew was not the only one in the mirror who looked incredibly happy.

Suddenly I saw the woman holding the baby…literally and figuratively holding life in her hands. And on her face was the pure joy that comes from living, not simply surviving each day or getting through each day, but living each day with purpose, presence, and gratitude.

In that moment I saw how far I had come in one year.

I am now able to put into words what I couldn’t bear to write before….

Before, I was living life with one hand.
One hand always making a list,
Checking things off…checking things off.

Before, I was living life with one hand.
One hand always planning ahead,
On to what’s next…On to what’s next.

Before, I was living life with one hand.
One hand always trying to please,
Make everyone happy…make everyone happy.

Before, I was living life with one hand.
One hand always striving for an illusion,
Make sure it’s perfect…make sure it’s perfect.

Before, I was living life with one hand.
One hand always reaching full speed,
Don’t slow down…don’t slow down.

Before, I was living life with one hand,
But then I realized one-handed living is not really living,
Not living at all.

Deep in my soul, I yearned to grasp what really matters.
And I knew I couldn’t do it with one hand.

So I let go.

I let go of distraction.
I let go of perfection.
I let go of excess.
I let go of chaos.

And when I finally had two free hands,
I embraced life.

I embraced life with two free hands and one whole heart.
And THAT is when I truly began living.

Conner Prairie 2011: My hands are free; my heart is full.


Is this the end? Does my journey to grasp what really matters end here?

My next post holds the answer. I hope you’ll come back.

In the meantime, evaluate how you are doing on your own journey to grasp what really matters. What signs of progress have you witnessed? I’d love to hear about them.

Or perhaps you are still unsuccessfully trying to embrace life with one hand?

Isn’t it time to let go? Let go of a little distraction, a little perfection, or a little chaos. It only requires baby steps to making a big difference in getting closer to what really matters in this one precious life we have to live.

Let go. Do it today.

Embrace The Reminder

A few weeks ago, the flu hit our home hard.  Instead of simply wreaking havoc for a few days and then moving on, this mega-virus hovered. It would tease us by appearing to be find its way to the door, then only to turn around, prop up its feet and announce, “I’ve decided to stay awhile!”

After ten days of being “home bound” with one or both of my ill daughters and experiencing excessive sleep deprivation, I was exhausted. I was grouchy and irritable. I longed for just two peaceful minutes alone. I dreamed of the days when something other than a sleeve of Saltine crackers sounded good for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Let’s just say, to even think about being Hands Free at that time was just about enough to put me over the edge.

But through this journey, I have learned the times I most resist going Hands Free are the times I most need to go Hands Free.

And sometimes I need to be reminded of that.

Part of this Hands Free journey is being “open” to the reminders and then to embrace the reminders with open arms (even when all you really feel like doing is crossing your arms stubbornly against your chest).

I felt like crossing my arms against my chest, but instead I embraced the reminder.

This is my story…

On day ten of the miserable homebound period, a dear neighbor kindly dropped off my oldest daughter’s missed schoolwork. Although I was in the worst mood, and the mere sight of that blasted red take-home folder brought expletives to my head, I managed to smile and thank her.

Before she turned to leave, I desperately needed to let someone know how I was truly feeling.

I peered out the door, but I was very careful not to get my germy breath and unkempt self too close to my neighbor’s personal space. Through clenched teeth I confided, “I have not been out of the house in ten days. I am about to lose it.”

I didn’t expect her to have an answer. But she did.

My sweet Southern friend said, “Why don’t y’all go feed the ducks?”

Go feed the ducks? That was not what I had in mind.

I was thinking more along the lines of going into seclusion for a few days.

Then she even offered to give me the bread to feed the ducks.

Either she is just truly kind and generous (which she is), or I really did look like I was about to lose it.

Why don’t y’all go feed the ducks? And I even have bread you can use. It’s so fun. The girls will love it.

She made it hard to say no, but it sounded like A LOT of effort. And all I really wanted to do was go in my bedroom and put a pillow over my head…or perhaps be productive and begin reducing the size of the enormous mound of dirty laundry that had accumulated in the last ten days.

I wanted to keep those arms tightly crossed against my chest. I did not feel like being Hands Free right now.

But instead, my inner Hands Free voice (which tends to interject some pretty unconventional thoughts at some of the most inconvenient times) said this: “Embrace the reminder.”

So I did.

“Girls!” I called. “Do you want to go feed the ducks?”

They looked at me strangely. Was it because they didn’t know we had ducks in our vicinity? Or was it because Mom would surely not leave the house looking like, well, like she had been home sick in the company of sick children for ten days.

“Miss Susie said it is really fun,” I added. I couldn’t believe now I was the one doing the convincing.

They looked at each other excitedly and then back to me. Smiling they said, “YES!”

And then the “Hands Free Rachel” that often ticks off “Control-freak Type A Rachel” did something quite unusual.  I told them to simply, “Go get dressed in anything you want,” the way their laid-back Daddy does.

They intelligently opened the front door to briefly assess today’s weather.

Discovering it was around 55 degrees and overcast, one put on shorts, a tank top, and flip flops. The other one wore a sweatshirt, a jean skirt and knee high boots. Go figure.

Both had perfected the “messy” up-do, but not in a good way.

Me? Let’s just say I fit in well with their hodgepodge of mismatched style and seasonal variety. Then I used my trusty standby…the good old hat, and we were out the door.

As we rode to the pond, the anticipatory smiles on the two faces of my pale children began to ease my grumpiness.

But it wasn’t until we arrived at the pond and began tossing the crumbs that my “funk” was completely lifted.

Maybe it was the smell of the fresh spring air in my tight and oppressed lungs…

Maybe it was the way my four-year-old referred to the two large geese as “Mama Duck” and “Daddy Duck” and the regular sized ducks as “Baby Ducks”…

Or perhaps it was the hypnotic ripples in the clear water as the ducks glided forth…

Maybe it was how the bird song snippets coming from the trees silenced my negative thoughts and replaced them with praises of gratitude…

Or perhaps it was the fact that we were throwing whole-wheat waffles (or as my four-year-old refers to them, “The yucky brown kind”) and graham crackers, yet the ducks seem to really enjoy this unusual fare.

Maybe it was all those things.

But in a matter of minutes, I felt renewed. The frustrations and exhaustion of the past ten days were lifted. The light that had been missing from my darkened spirit was found again.

And all it took was a reminder.

I was reminded that Mother Nature holds healing powers.

I was reminded that fresh air removes the heaviness in one’s heart.

I was reminded that joy on children’s faces is a glorious sight for tired eyes.

I was reminded that tranquility found by the water’s edge creates a blanket of calm around tense shoulders.

I was reminded that refuge from the storm can come in the form of feathers and crumbs.

I was reminded beauty is multiplied in the glow of natural light…even hair that has not been brushed for days.

I was so powerfully reminded of this essential truth: It is in the times that I least want to go Hands Free that I most need to go Hands Free.

And from now on, instead of crossing my arms, I will try to remember to open them wide.

Where do you go to lift your spirits when you are down? What places do you visit serve as reminders of what’s important? What people in your life replenish your depleted energy supply? Go to those places. Be with those people. Uncross your arms; open them wide. Grasp the reminder and renew your soul. Do it today.