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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Bridging the Gap Created by Waves of Criticism

wave erosion

On the same day I heard from a woman about her non-existent relationship with her teenage son, my 12-year-old daughter created a wave erosion project for middle school science class.

She did it all by herself except for cutting the foam with a sharp kitchen knife. We huddled together on the floor the garage as I chipped away at the dense foam.

“Just a little more, Mama,” she directed.

Chip
Chip
Chip

I chipped away at the structure so it would appear battered and beat down by waves so powerful they altered the form forever.

But he has bad breath, so I tell him.
But he needs to shower. Is that so wrong to point it out?
But he never remembers to do what he’s supposed to so I nag.

Chip
Chip
Chip

I did not personally know the woman who was reaching out to me in desperation, but I knew exactly where she was coming from. I could hear the corrections in my mind as if they were my own. From personal experience, I knew her intentions were good—perhaps thinking her commentary would help her son fit in or become more responsible. But not only were the corrections ineffective, they were also driving the teen away from a mother who loved him dearly. That’s where they were now—far apart. The mother wanted to know if she could bridge the gap between them after years of chipping away his spirit.

I did not know, but the fact that she was asking … searching … taking a difficult look inward made me hopeful.

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Lose Yesterday’s Regrets With a Do-Over Today

I love spending time with my nephews. But because we live in different states and my daughters always monopolize their little cousins’ time when we’re together, I rarely get alone time with them. But when I do, something magical happens. Time slows down. I become calmer, happier, and more attentive. I marvel at their long eyelashes and the way their small hands feel in mine. I ask them questions like, “How long does it take a tree to grow?” and marvel at the certainty of their responses. “’Bout five minutes,” beautiful Sam said when he was four.

DSC_0445

When I am with my nephews it’s like getting a do-over. I get to do the things I wish I’d done when my daughters were three and five. But I didn’t because that is when I tried to control everything. That is when I worried so much about the outcome that I forgot to enjoy the experience. That’s when I counted my calories and my kids’ mistakes. That is when my voice was harsh more than it was kind. That’s when my phone ruled my thoughts and actions. That’s when I gave my time and energy to people I barely knew and had nothing left for the people I named myself.

But I try not to wallow in regret. It sucks the joy from today.

So instead I try to do better. And time with my nephews is a like a do-over. And it’s a reminder of what beautiful moments can come when you just hold a child’s hand and let him lead.

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The Conversation I Almost Missed & the Future It Could’ve Cost

you make me feel like I belong under the sun -citizen cope

 “You make me feel like I belong under the sun.” –Citizen Cope

I was not expecting to experience such an emotional response when Dr. Shefali Tsabary shared her video about parent shaming with me. It was the following words, found two minutes and twenty seconds into the video, that brought me to tears:

“I came to you so you could honor my soul, nurture my worth, and preserve my spirit. Yet it is you who annihilates my very essence in the name of parenting, in the name of love, in the name of teaching.”

Dr. Shefali then calls on parents to “become the person they are meant to be.” She describes it from a child’s perspective as:

The parent
The guardian
The usher of my soul

Not too long ago, I was good at shaming my children. It wasn’t obvious. It was subtle. Exasperated breaths. Eye rolls. Belittling. Inducing guilt. Acting like they should know better. But they were children. They were learning, and I seemed to forget that.

I thought it was my job to teach them a lesson.

But what I was teaching them was that I could never be satisfied. I was teaching them to confide in someone else—someone who would be more understanding and less reactive. I was teaching them to strive for perfection, no matter the cost.

Although I’d improved on seeing the positives rather than the negatives in people and situations, there was still work to do. It was an intentional change in my approach to life that revealed exactly where further improvement was needed and more importantly, why.

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Replace ‘Guilt’ with ‘Gift’ & Watch it Become a Life-Changer

guilt #HFM

Guilt can be loud.

Are they getting enough?
Am I doing enough?
Should I be doing more?

You should be playing more.
You should be planning more.
You should be having more fun.

Earlier this summer Guilt got very loud and had a lot to say to me.

The old me would have listened and accepted its critical words as truth. But the Hands Free me has learned the best way to silence Guilt is to pull back the veil of darkness and shed light on the matter. I do this by telling someone what Guilt is saying.

In this case, I told my mom.

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If Life Could Begin Again, It Might Begin Like This

Popsicles #HFMJust living is not enough … one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.
-Hans Christian Andersen

Last week I shared my hopes and intentions for our children to have an All-Senses Summer. Yet something quite unexpected happened when I described the smells, tastes, and feelings I associated with my childhood summers—it inspired you to share yours. Like me, you have your own summer memories that conjure up feelings of joy … freedom … creativity … relaxation … comfort … and contentment.

But things might be different now.

Adult Summer may not produce such positive feelings.

For many, Adult Summer has its own challenges, bringing forth feelings of worry … guilt … comparison … impatience … frustration … and stress.

I have to work. I wish I had more time to play with my family.
I desperately need a moment of peace. I cannot breathe.
I am embarrassed to wear my bathing suit. I wish my insecurities didn’t hold me back.
We can’t afford a vacation right now. How will this be a memorable summer?
Will my kids regress over the summer? We cannot afford to lose what we gained.

As adults, it’s not like our responsibilities disappear in the summer. It’s not like we are suddenly free to do whatever we please. It’s not like we are released from the stresses and burdens of our everyday lives. But Summer. We are talking about Summer. If we cannot find new freedoms, forgotten smiles, and more breathing room in summer, when can we find them? [Read more…]

A State Where You Can Thrive & Your People Can Breathe

detourWhen I was young, my family would take long car trips in the summertime. It was always a big deal when we’d cross state lines. Everyone in the car would look up from whatever they were doing to pass the time and celebrate our progress. Going from one territory to another was exciting, but there was nothing like crossing into my home state at the end of the trip. Knowing I’d be sleeping in my own bed made me feel giddy with delight. When my dad pulled the car into the garage, my foul mood suddenly lifted. The familiar smell of home filled my senses and made me forget how much my sister annoyed me the previous nine hours. I’d jump out of the car, eager to move my stiff ligaments and see my beloved orange cat.

Although I seldom take long car trips now, my Hands Free journey to live better and love more causes me to think about state lines every single day. These lines are not physical territories, but rather emotional boundary lines—and I’ve discovered they are critical for a peaceful, loving, joy-filled existence.

Let me explain …

With adult decisions, daily responsibilities, kid mishaps, constant pressures, and blatant distractions, it’s quite easy to cross over fragile state lines:

From a state of calm … to a state of impatience

From a state of caring … to a state of apathy

From a state of presence … to a state of distraction

From a state of hope … to a state of despair

From a state of joy … to a state of infuriation

You could have the best intentions in the world to be calm, present, and joyful and sometimes all it takes is just one incident to push you over the line. One sibling squabble … one added work assignment … one painful rejection … one burnt dinner … one dog-chewed retainer … or one call from the school and before you know it, you’ve crossed over into dangerous territory and find yourself in that place you never wanted to be (again).

I know. I remember.

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