“I 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 …
On very rare occasions, I find myself alone in the car with my six-year-old daughter. When I do, I try to stay extra quiet to see what gems my Noticer of Life child might feel like spilling out to the headrest in front of her.
On this particular day, we’d just dropped off her playmate. The setting sun was illuminating her tangled curls and freckled face as she gazed out the window with sleepy eyes.
Suddenly she perked up. “Could you play, ‘Daylight’ by Maroon 5?” she asked, sounding more like a sixteen-year-old than a six-year-old. “It’s my favorite song,” she added as if she knew her request might require some explanation.
She was right. Coming from her, it did strike me as an odd song request. For the past three years, my cheerful, little ukulele player had strummed and sang her way through the likes of Taylor Swift, Martina McBride, and Carly Rae Jepsen. Romantic ballads by heavily tattooed rock stars had never once come from this southern girl’s lips.
But I pushed ‘play’ on “Daylight,” and ever since then, I have been able to breathe easier, even on the most challenging days as a parent.
You see, as Adam Levine belted out the following lyrics in his signature falsetto, my daughter’s face turned wistful, almost sad:
“And when the daylight comes, I’ll have to go
But tonight I’m gonna hold you so close.
Cause in the daylight, we’ll be on our own,
But tonight I need to hold you so close.”
My child noticed me watching her in the rearview mirror. As we locked eyes, it was solemnly revealed why this particular song was her favorite. “That song is about morning when I have to go to school,” she said pushing up her little eyeglasses so they sat squarely on her face. “I don’t like morning to come. I like night when you hold me in your arms.”
For a moment, I couldn’t speak. My child’s interpretation of this blatantly obvious love song surprised me. How could she get that meaning from those lyrics? I thought. But then I reminded myself that children make sense of the world using their experiences as a frame of reference. In that respect, her lyrical interpretation of “Daylight” made perfect sense.
The reason this song wasn’t about two lovers parting at daybreak was because my child hadn’t experienced that. But she did know what it felt like to be so safe and secure in someone’s arms that she never wanted to leave.
And that’s when it hit me.
Warm, cleansing tears dripped down my face as a profound sense of peace came over me.
For the first time in a long time, I felt I’d done something right along this parenting journey. The nightly tuck-in had become my child’s frame of reference.
It was the one thing I managed to do consistently for all six years of her life …
Through the baby years when piercing screams of colic, cutting teeth, sleep deprivation, and sibling jealousy hallowed me until I was empty … I still managed to hold her every night despite my exhaustion.
Through the toddler years when pajamas were itchy, getting out of bed was her fulltime job, and lost stuffed animals ensued atomic meltdowns … I still managed to smooth her hair every night despite my frustration.
Through her preschool years when I was present, but absent, focusing too much on electronic screens, to-do lists, and keeping up the façade of a perfect life … I still managed to kiss her face every night despite my maxed-out existence.
Through the daily struggles of life, I managed to reach my child’s bedside. For a few minutes each night, I’d hold her and say, “I love you,” so those could be the last words she heard, even if I failed to say them in syllables or actions during day.
And through a catchy pop song on a Sunday afternoon drive, I learned this nightly ritual mattered; it mattered a lot. It was a beacon of light in a sea of failings, and I intended to grasp it.
Because let’s face it. We need this validation. We need to know we’re doing something right. We need to know things are going to turn out okay despite it all. We need to know love prevails over failures, flaws, and imperfect days.
Because sometimes the “experts,” the well-meaning friends, the sweet ladies behind us in the checkout line, and the critics inside our head suggest otherwise, making us feel like there is more to it than just loving them.
But then you attend an end-of-the-year school program. You see a child on stage scanning the crowd with eager, almost frantic, eyes. Then suddenly, her eyes stop. As she enthusiastically waves at a focal point in the crowd, a visible sigh of relief comes from her small chest. If you follow her gaze to see what brought her such great comfort, you will see love etched across the face of the person who met her gaze. That child found her reference point, her source of comfort, her go-to place in times of uncertainty and doubt—and it made all the difference.
I don’t care what anybody says. It’s the love that sustains them.
Whether she’s walking out on stage or out of a bad relationship …
Whether he’s stepping into kindergarten or into battle …
Whether he’s taking an honest look inward or a stand for what he believes in …
Whether she’s reaching up to grab her dream or reaching down to help the fallen …
When faced with the fears, uncertainties, and worries of life, our loved ones need a reference point—a place in their minds and hearts where they feel loved and safe. And we can provide that. My friends, we can provide that.
So let’s not worry about doing all the things right in this lifetime; let’s just focus on doing one thing right in this day: a little love today.
Love them as they walk out the door.
Love them when they come home.
Love them when they mess up.
Love them when they succeed … soar … shine.
Love them when they’re scared.
Love them when they’re brave.
Love them as they pull away.
Love them as they cling with all their might.
Love them when they’re hard to love.
Love them when they’re utterly irresistible.
Choose love for your precious ones as much as you humanly can. May it become their reference point in a harsh world, like the lyrics to their favorite song that never quite leave their head or their heart.
My friends of the Hands Free Revolution, thank you for the incredible support you provide my family & me each week. My daughter was thrilled that so many of you watched her “Fight Song” Youtube video and left such affirming comments on our community’s page. When I asked for all the details about the talent show on Tuesday, she said everyone clapped “really hard” and a boy came up to her and said, “Dude, you are like the next Taylor Swift … no, the next Ellie Goulding … no, the next Adele.” She was literally glowing! That sweet boy made her day and so did all of you!
Denver friends, I am still feeling the love you bestowed on me when I took the stage last Saturday. I am still crying from the standing ovation you gave me. I am still inspired by the scars you revealed when I met you in line. I was 1400 miles from home, yet you made me feel like I was home. Your timing was perfect as I’m currently working through the first round edits on my forthcoming book, ONLY LOVE TODAY. You have fueled me during this grueling process. Since many of you have inquired about me speaking in your cities, I thought I would clarify that I do not plan these events. I simply go where I am invited if the details align. The best way to get me to your city is to recommend me to a school, organization, company, or church that is looking for a speaker. They can fill out this speaking request form on my contact page, and I will be in touch.
Thank you, dear ones, for being my writing fuel and my daily blessing. I love you dearly.