On most Saturdays you can find our family exploring our new city. We moved here ten months ago, but it still feels new and excitingly uncharted. At a downtown museum on a recent Saturday, we watched a four-minute film that my younger daughter called the “moments of happiness” movie. At different points in the video, I noticed each of my daughters peering down the isle to look at me. I knew what they were looking for—they were looking for tears.
Within the first twenty seconds of the film, I felt my eyes well up. Watching ordinary people doing brave things … watching the joyful homecomings of service men and women … watching siblings work together for a common goal … watching families celebrate together and mourn together—these heart-stirring situations caused my tears to flow. I unabashedly let them run down my face.
“It doesn’t take much to make mom cry,” my older daughter said taking my hand as our family exited the theater. I felt my chest tighten wondering where this was going.
“Yeah,” my younger daughter agreed. “Whenever Mom sees someone else cry, she cries too.”
I was so relieved. This is who I am now: The woman who cries with others … the woman who cries with happiness.
It hasn’t always been that way.
There was a time when there were lots of tears—not a quiet cry of despair, but more of an out of control, high-pitched, tearful eruption. There was a two-year period of my life when I was a pressure cooker just waiting to blow. The troubling mantra that repeatedly ran through my mind was: “It’s just too much … it’s all just too much.” A great deal of the “too much” was self imposed—unachievable standards, relentless distractions, and an overabundance of commitments. But at the time, I didn’t realize the choices I was making were causing this constant feeling of overwhelm. I only knew that carrying the weight of too much caused me to scream and cry when I got upset—as if screaming and crying were the only way to be heard.
But that type of communication was always met with a look of shock, fear, and sorrow from the people I loved the most. In fact, when I was screaming and crying, they didn’t hear a word I said.
At my loudest, I was heard the least.
At my loudest, I felt the most pain.
At my loudest, I caused the most hurt.
At my loudest, my voice was most voiceless.
In those agonizing moments after my tearful, over-the-top meltdown, I’d frantically rummage through the junk drawer looking for my car keys. I needed to get away—far, far away.
One night I made it all the way out to the car. I was in my pajamas and my skin felt cold against the leather seats. I was shivering as my barefoot stepped on the gas pedal.
But I could not leave.
I went back inside to get my children. I gathered them up, one in each arm. I remember how they cried in confusion and fear. I made it to the door and realized I could not leave without my husband either. And I could not leave without my beloved calico cat, Callie. I could not leave my people.
Something needed to change.
I needed to find my voice—my truest voice—the one that could be heard … felt … and understood.
Back in college, I took a poetry class. I thought it would be an easy A, not requiring too much time and effort on my part. The professor gave us a notebook and said we could write about anything we wanted because it would never be seen by anyone but her. She encouraged us to describe our deepest fears … to recount our most horrible memories … to share our darkest secrets. Writing in that notebook offered a freedom I’d never known. With each entry bringing clarity, redemption, peace, and self-discovery, I looked forward to writing in it each day.
About mid-way through the semester, students were required to turn in their notebooks for review. In mine, the professor wrote: “You have a powerful voice, Rachel.”
What hadn’t dawned on me as a sophomore in college, dawned on me over a decade later when I most needed this powerful revelation: When I spoke my greatest fears, offered my most difficult truths, and shed light on my darkest thoughts was when I felt the most heard.
It was then that I knew how I could find my truest voice again. I bought a notebook that very day—just like the one I used in my college class. And since that day, I’ve filled an entire plastic bin with notebooks—releasing trapped emotions, letting go of suppressed memories, and liberating shameful thoughts with every line. Through these pages, my loudest voice got quieter and my truest voice got stronger. Through these pages, I felt heard by something far greater than myself; I felt guided by the One who could offer me true peace and fulfillment.
Five years and nearly fifty filled notebooks later, I have made significant progress. Don’t get me wrong, I still cry sometimes. I cry when I am sad. I cry when I am homesick. I cry when I am exhausted. I even cry when I get angry every once in awhile. But most of the time, I cry when I am happy. Because that is when gratitude seizes me by the throat and makes me feel thankful for my truest voice—the one that allows me to be heard … felt … and understood by the people who share my life.
The other night, as I tucked younger daughter in bed, she recounted the stressful events of the previous night. For several hours, we could not find Banjo the cat anywhere. We assumed he got outside and was somewhere in the dense woods behind our house. My husband had tucked my daughter in bed as I searched.
“Did you cry when you were looking for Banjo?” my daughter asked unexpectedly.
“No. Why?” I asked.
“I could hear you calling and calling for him when I was trying to go to sleep.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat. “Were you crying?” I asked her.
“No,” my child said. “Because we have a family code, you know.”
I did not know.
“It’s: No Family Member Left Behind,” she explained.
“Did you come up with that yourself?” I asked stunned.
“Yes. In our family, we would never leave without each other. You’d never leave without me.”
She smiled as if that confession coming from me made perfect sense.
As warm tears filled my eyes yet again, I realized that sometimes we all lose our voice, but we must fight to get it back … so our family can hear us calling … so our family can hear us cheering … so our family can hear us living our best selves.
Whether it’s through a notebook, an easel, or the lens of a camera,
Whether it’s through dancing, singing, cooking, or meditating on a rubber mat,
Whether it’s through running, walking, or crawling, if that is all you can manage,
Find your voice—your truest voice.
It speaks fears.
It speaks truths.
It speaks hopes.
It speaks desires.
It speaks dreams.
It speaks love.
Unlike the voice that barks empty threats and sweeping generalizations, your truest voice can be heard.
Unlike the voice that spews sarcasm, accusations, and defensiveness, your truest voice feels like peace when it is spoken.
Unlike the voice that hurls insults and patronizing words, your truest voice won’t drive you farther and farther away from the people you love.
Your truest voice brings you closer—
closer to the person you want to be
closer to the life you want to live
closer to tears of happiness …
May they fall like rain.
Resources: If you would like to know what specific steps and strategies I used to transform my distracted, overwhelmed life, they are detailed in my NYT bestselling book Hands Free Mama. In addition, the book Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling & Start Connecting by Dr. Laura Markham is my number #1 recommendation to anyone yearning to respond more peacefully and positively in times of frustration and challenge. Dr. Laura’s second book, Peaceful Parent: Happy Siblings: How to Stop the Fighting & Raise Friends For Life, comes out next week, and it is just as life changing as the first! Click here to learn more or to pre-order. Dr. Laura recently allowed me to ask several questions about improving sibling relationships and creating a more loving home environment. Our discussion tied in beautifully with my new book, Hands Free Life: 9 Habits for Overcoming Distraction, Living Better, & Loving More . Please enjoy listening to our open-hearted discussion by clicking the play button below.
*One final note: a NEW reminder bracelet is here! Inspired by the Choose Love 21-Day Challenge & your many requests, the “I Choose Love” bracelet has been added to the Hands Free Shop and the color is perfect for spring!