The Photo that Conveyed a Message You Need to Hear

DSC_0131“In the morning to another day,
twisting and dodging the drops of rain
Now I know what I wanna be,
it’s what you already see.”
-Sister Hazel, You See Me Beautiful

This is a picture of my Noticer of life child and Lacie, a kitten we fostered over the summer. This photo was taken right before Lacie’s new owner came to take her to her forever home. When I looked at my camera after taking the picture, I knew I had to tell you this story, and I knew today, August 12th, would be the day.

[Read more…]

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.

DSC_0383

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.

DSC_0386

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.

DSC_0369

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.

DSC_0374

*****************

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. 

That Moment When Your Flaws & Failings Don’t Matter

eyes HFMI see the whole world in your eyes
It’s like I’ve known you all my life
We just feel so right
So I pour my heart into your hands
It’s like you really understand
You love the way I am.”
-Rachel Platten, Better Place

On Monday night, my nine-year-old daughter announced she was going to practice one last time for the upcoming third grade talent show. The following day, she’d be performing “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten, which we both knew would be crowd pleaser among her young classmates.

As she began to play, I closed my eyes, imagining for a moment what the children’s faces would look like as she began to strum and sing. Most of her classmates had never heard this girl sing, let alone play guitar. As she shared her musical gift in that spotlight moment, I knew it would be hard for her to contain her smile.

But I would not know for sure because I would not be there to witness it.

“Parents aren’t allow to come to the third grade talent show, Mom,” she’d said matter-of-factly two weeks ago, breaking my heart right in half.

“What? You must be mistaken,” I said feeling inappropriately emotional about this news.

“Nope. No parents. It’s just for kids,” she said doing nothing to soften the blow … that is, until she saw the look on my face. Patting my hand gently, she said, “Don’t worry, Mom. I’ll be fine.”

I knew she would be fine. I’d watched her confidence blossom over the past year. I knew she would take the stage by storm. Selfishly, I wanted to be there to see it. Standing in an auditorium or classroom with shining eyes as my child reads a story she wrote, recites a line in a play, or sings alone or with a group, is my moment of redemption. My child scans the crowd until she finds me, and I look at her with all the love in my heart. In that moment, guilt cannot touch me. Regret leaves the premises. Mistakes of the past completely vanish. All that’s left is proof I have loved; it is written all over her face.

Three years ago I grasped this redemptive gift for the very first time. I immediately knew it was not exclusive to me, nor was it mine to keep. So I wrote it down. Today, it is yours … word for word. May these words be the reminder you need this very moment. May your flaws and failings fall away so all you are left with is hope …

last pic HFM

[Read more…]

Breaking a Common Barrier to Better Myself & Expand My Child’s Future

 DSC_0643

“I didn’t know I was lonely ’til I saw your face.”
Bleachers, I Wanna Get Better

“Instead of riding the bus today, could we go to breakfast and then could you drop me off at school?” my almost thirteen-year-old daughter unexpectedly asked me on a recent Friday morning.

My Type-A, plan-happy brain initially resisted this spontaneous invitation. While my brain began to list the reasons I couldn’t, my eyes saw something else. Standing in front of me was a not-so-little girl in stylish tribal print pants that were just a little long for her small physique. They wouldn’t be too long forever, I knew. She would grow into them; it wouldn’t be long.

“Okay,” I said, suddenly grateful to have an hour alone with this beautiful, growing girl.

After having a nice visit over chicken biscuits, we ran into a nearby store for a piece of poster board. As we stood in the checkout line, a woman pulled her cart up behind us. Standing in the back was a little girl who appeared to be three or four years old.

“Mama, can I get out?” the little girl asked.

No response.

“Mama, can I get out?” she repeated—this time a little louder.

Still no response.

“Mama, please can I get out?” the child politely asked as the woman used her pointer finger to scroll down the screen of her phone, happily smiling to herself.

As the little girl continued to ask the same question, her left leg inched higher and higher over the grocery cart until it appeared she was going to get out herself. My daughter, sensing the little girl was about to fall, quickly stepped next to the cart, preparing to catch her.

The little girl looked at my daughter and put her leg back in the cart. She began asking the same question once again, in hopes her mother might respond to her pleas.

We hadn’t even made it to the car when I saw tears forming in my daughter’s eyes. As she shut the door, she quietly said, “That made me really sad.”

[Read more…]

Your Role in a Loved One’s Struggle

DSC_0869

“Oh, why you look so sad?
Tears are in your eyes
Come on and come to me now.
Don’t be ashamed to cry
Let me see you through
’cause I’ve seen the dark side too.”
–The Pretenders

When we moved to a new state almost two years ago, I knew there would be challenging moments for my daughters, then eleven and eight years old. We’d gone from a school where they knew everyone to a school where they knew no one. Even swim team, which my older daughter excelled in for many years, was drastically different. She went from a family-friendly year-round program at the YMCA to a large, competitive program with the area’s most elite swimmers. I can vividly recall two moments during the first year in our new state when I saw my older daughter’s pain and wanted to spare her from it.

The first moment was when her beloved teacher abruptly left the classroom one day and never came back. For personal reasons, the teacher was not able to say goodbye to the students. I can still hear my daughter’s guttural cries wondering why her teacher left them.

The second moment was in the final championship of a divisional swim meet. Earlier that day, my daughter missed the cut off for finals by one spot in the 50-meter breaststroke event. We were informed that she could come back that evening as an alternate. This meant she’d warm up as if she was going to swim and report to the starting blocks when her event was called. When the first whistle sounded, she would quickly scan the blocks. If a block was empty, she was to quickly jump up on the block and swim the race.

Just the thought of this agonizing process made my palms sweat! As a cautious planner with the tendency to worry, I was surprised my daughter wanted to put herself in such an unpredictable situation. But she did. I’ll never forget standing next to her as her eyes frantically scanned the blocks, her hands clasped nervously in hopes of there being an empty spot.

When there wasn’t, I saw her shoulders fall. Her eyelids blinked in rapid succession as she fought back tears of disappointment.
[Read more…]

A Question That Reaches Through Fears & Cages

homeless cat

“Courage. Kindness. Friendship. Character. These are the qualities that define us as human beings, and propel us, on occasion, to greatness.” -R.J. Palacio, Wonder

For the past two weeks, my younger daughter and I have been reading the book Wonder. Although my third grader is fully capable of reading it to herself, I asked her if I could read it aloud. I’m learning to give my soul what it needs, and holding a book in my hands beneath a heavy quilt next to my girl is what I need right now. I’m two weeks away from my book deadline and my soul is weary. Book writing brings emotions to the surface … mortality to the forefront … doubt to its loudest … and exhaustion to its peak. But knowing I’ll be curling up with my girl and this book at the end of an intense day of writing has carried me through.

August, the main character in Wonder, was born with a facial deformity. He is going to middle school for the first time and is faced with many obstacles. Sometimes I am unable to read August’s painful admissions about being the object of people’s curiosities and hurtful comments. That’s when I pass the book over to Avery. She takes over without missing a beat and after a few minutes, asks, “Are you okay, Mom?” I wipe away my tears and tell her it hurts my heart to see people—especially children—being mistreated, alienated, and excluded. She nods as if she understands completely and then we talk about what we just read. I can’t remember this happening with any other book she’s read, so I go with it, even if it’s time to turn off the lights.

One conversation that stood out was when August’s teacher, Mr. Browne, asked the students to name some really important things. After many great student guesses, he reveals what he believes is the most important thing of all:

“Who we are,” he said, underlining each word as he said it. “Who we are! Us! Right? What kind of people are we? What kind of person are you? Isn’t that the most important thing of all? Isn’t that the kind of question we should be asking ourselves all the time? ‘What kind of person am I?’ Learning who you are is what your are here to do.”
-R.J. Palacio, Wonder

I turned to Avery and asked, “What kind of person are you?”

[Read more…]

Finding Lost Joy the Way We Find Lost Pets

joyless

“Come back, Joy.
Come back, Gratefulness.
Come back, Energy.
Come back, Zest.
I’m looking for you.
And I won’t stop until I find you.”
–Rachel Macy Stafford

The last two blog posts I’ve written about softening and dreaming have uncovered a painful truth: Many of us have lost our joy. Many of us are simply going through the motions. Many of us see the way our irritability hurts the ones we love—but we continue our unpleasantness anyway. We taste the bitterness of our words before they come out of our mouths—but we say them anyway. Many of us can’t remember the last time we were the party … the gathering place … the heartbeat of our family. Many of us have lost our joy and haven’t the slightest idea how to get it back.

I know the feeling.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

That difficult period of my life came back to me one day as I was out for a walk. A handmade sign stapled to a telephone pole caught my eye. Franklin the cat was missing. I stopped and studied the lovingly made poster despite the winter wind trying to move me along. My eyes became wet just thinking of those who loved Franklin and desperately wanted to see his furry face again.

Come back, Franklin. I pleaded in my head. Come back.

I’d pleaded those same words about Joy a few years prior. Oh how I’d longed to see Joy’s optimistic face and feel her enthusiastically squeeze my heart and hand.

When I got home from my walk that day, I wrote a poem. It seems fitting to share it today–perhaps more than ever.

[Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]