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.