My 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.
There’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.
I 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.
Today 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
I always count myself very lucky when I read your post the same day it is written. This post is a perfect gift for this holiday for all of us who are on this handsfree journey. I will be glad to put into practice most of your vows and create moments that we shall never forget. I believe that the best gift is my presence and the moments we share together doing what we do even with all our imperfections. Thank you Rachel, I wish you the happiest holidays with your great family! May God bless you for all the lives you have uplifted, for all the households you have changed. God will reward you abundantly!
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you for your kind, uplifting words, Winnie. This means so much to me and my family. I am grateful to share this journey with you.
Thanks, Rachel. Today my 7 yo daughter is enjoying an event with a good friend and I have the day to myself. My to-do before Christmas list is so long, and I have been dreading the feelings of failure that have accompanied the past 5 Christmases, because I can’t get everything done. I want to savor the holidays and make memories and give her traditions, not a crazy mom in tears and hating herself for not being good enough.
I needed this reminder, and I will do my best to heed it, because I know I only have so many holidays like this left – holidays when she is home and I am still cool. 🙂 I want us to make a gingerbread house, not clean until bedtime. I want us to bake cookies, not have her playing alone while I scrub the oven.
I tend to run myself into the ground, so that I am too exhausted – and frequently ill – to enjoy our holidays. I don’t want to be that mom anymore.
My journey has just begun, so I appreciate these posts that are a sign of Grace for me.
Thank you so much for writing this. 2014 saw many changes in my life. Next month, I will turn 50, and I realize(d) I didn’t want to continue the next 50 years the way I had been living. I’ve been struggling to articulate what I wanted for 2015 and beyond. Many of your blogs have encouraged me to think this through. Thank you, and blessings on your holy-day season.
Melissa Melnitzer says
Rachel, I just discovered your blog recently and hope to soon read your book. Your writing resonates deeply…I find it so moving. One of my favourite lines in today’s post is, “I’d made it clear to my inner drill sergeant that she was not welcome here.” Sometimes my inner drill sergeant gets so enmeshed with me that I forget to send him away where he belongs. Thank you for the reminder, and in general for your beautiful writing.
Trina Hartshorne says
I have narrowed my fb routine pages to you, Momastery,and Trent Shelton. I, too, love to write, but mostly I love nature, simplicity, and authenticity. Thank you for helping me stay grounded in that. Blessings . . .
I love your work! Once again, your heart stories touch my soul and make me cry in all ways good! Thank you for transparently sharing your life with us. You inspire, you encourage, you matter, and your words and ideas make me a better mama and wife. Bless you and your family Rachel!
Thank you for this message! Christmas used to be my favorite holiday, but I’ve become quite a Scrooge over the last few years, and Christmas has started to feel like an endless cycle of cooking, cleaning, shopping, and wrapping. This year, I decided that I would “fake it ’til I make it” because I didn’t want my kids’ Christmas memories to include a grouchy mom. We only got around to decorating our tree last week, and the second small tree that we usually put up is still in its box. The stockings are hung over the mess in our living room, and the nativity scene isn’t up. The shopping isn’t quite done yet. But I feel more peaceful and relaxed and joyful than I have in years because I’ve made the conscious decision to let go of the need for perfection and to focus instead on the experience of enjoying the season with my family. Merry Christmas to you and yours!
Maren Breitwieser says
Here’s exactly what I posted when I shared on my fb page:
I received this as an email @ no charge & so pass along @ the same price:-) My favorite line (from the fb post is), “I’d made it clear to my inner drill sergeant that she was not welcome here.” & I’ve learned to ask myself, “Where is this (expectation I have made for myself or have toward others) coming from?” And often it helps to me say (usually inwardly), “That was then, but this is now!”
Dr. Josh Misner says
Rachel, to state that I am deeply honored to be named as one of your two favorite blog posts of all time is painfully understated. I always appreciate your support, but more than that, I appreciate your message. May your holiday be filled with lifelong memories and may you effortlessly immerse yourself in each savored moment!
Thank you Rachel for all your eyes opening stories… through your posts I’ve realized how the “Disciplinarian” mom took over the tender, loving, caring not just mom but wife as well… I’ve had sooo many “oh my God” moments when I’ve read and re-read things that I’ve felt at times was God’s way of shaking me, kind of screaming at me: “what’s the matter with you???” … I’ve learned so much from you when I’ve thought I’ve read enough parenting books, only to realize how little I knew and how wrong I was… I want to thank you for being so courageous and not afraid to open your heart to us – strangers – and being so transparent in times when everybody is hiding behind their “perfect” social media life… I pray that you will find strength and wisdom in you struggles. Good luck in everything you do and God bless you and you family. Merry Christmas.
Musings, Rants & Scribbles says
Its so important to make this holiday work for you, not the other way around. We live near 12 Christmas tree farms in my part of Connecticut and I have a fake tree. It makes no sense but its so much easier and I have grown to like this holiday because of it. We all have to find the sweet spot with Christmas of following tradition but also following our hearts.
Have a blessed Christmas, from our house to yours.
Beautifully written! So much of the craziness is self-imposed pressure to present the picture perfect Christmas. I will be trying to follow your vows, not just over the holiday season. I will also remember to be kind to myself if I don’t always manage to follow them. Life is about learning and growing. Thank you and Merry Christmas!
ashley r. says
I really enjoy your blog. Thank you for reminding us how to be better.
melissa c says
So timely this holiday season! Thank you! You are a blessing and this blog is a lifeline that leads straight to Jesus! I just purchased a shirt that said perfectly imperfect- timely huh:)
Heidi z says
I LOVE your blog and your beautiful words that hit my heart. I strive to be the best mom I can be! Merry Christmas my friend keep writing yiur beautiful blog. Xo
Grace L says
Hi Rachel, Thank you for these important reminders. It is hard to hear as I would still rather get caught up in how things look despite knowing the cost. But your words are especially timely as I just spent last Saturday in a really bad mood and slamming lots of doors and yelling at my family because I had decided to do too much this month again and was burnt out/sleep deprived. Every year I vow to not get too busy and distracted in December and to focus on what Christmas is really about, but haven’t been too successful yet. Maybe there are no answers for this, but I was wondering if you had some practical tips on what you have “allowed” yourself to do during the holidays that doesn’t get in the way of being hands free. Do you have general rules for how many events to go to, cards to write, gifts to coordinate? If so, I’d love to hear more about what you’ve learned. Thanks!
Debbie D says
I needed to hear these words today. I was ready to forget the holiday this year for selfish reasons . Thanks for reminding us all to live in the moment.
Have a wonderful break. We are having a a stress free Christmas too. My sister in law’s baby is due on 27th, and I’ve got sinusitis and have had it for nearly a month. Between those two things we’re at Christmas and on the check box list there is still lots to do, the Christmas cards aren’t going anywhere this year for example!
But you know what? It does not matter. The presents are brought, there is food in the house, if it’s not exactly what we had planned, (I can buy mince pies instead of making them), because I’m washed out on painkillers and antibiotics or Ney goes into labour – we are still altogether as a family.
Thank-you for this. I really needed to be reminded to consider what my family will remember about our holiday and the part I played in it. I love your writing. It is beautiful and inspiring and it has changed the way I view my family and myself. Thank-you for sharing your journey. Merry Christmas!
Thank You Thank You Thank You!!
Rachel you are an amazing, inspiring woman. When I read your blogs my breathing becomes instantly easier.
Thank You and Merry Christmas xo
You have written yet another beautiful post about the important things in life. I hope I can savor the moments and relish in them as much as you do. In this busy world, it is so hard to be present. It would be a shame to look back with regret. Happy Holidays!
Florida clay says
Kristin Shaw says
You are constantly molding me into a better mother through your words. I hear you in my ear, whispering gently the words I should use and the tactics to make things better and smoother. Thank you for this, as always. xo
Thank you so much for writing this; I feel as if it were written for me. I wish I had read it sooner as well, now that Christmas has passed.
I struggle daily to let the small things go and just be. To play more with my boys….to live in the moment, not focus on my inner critic reminding me the dishes are dirty, the house needs tidying or that I look a mess today and again, had no time to make it to the gym. My little guys need me. They need me to be present, patient and loving.
I really needed to hear this…..thank you. I just discovered your blog and look forward to reading. Thank you.