Two weeks before my first kidney surgery in July, I felt a sense of urgency. There were things I felt I must do before I was wheeled into the operating room. I needed to attend a morning service at a historical church I’d been yearning to visit. I needed to play Scrabble on the front porch with my daughters using the same board my grandma and I used. I needed to hear the sound of the ice cream maker, gather with friends and barefooted children, and eat icy goodness like my dad made when I was young. I needed to send a round of handwritten cards to special individuals who encouraged my writing dream. I needed to write love notes to my family.
And I did.
I did all these things and my family obliged.
Even though it was a long drive to the church. Even though they didn’t really love Scrabble. Even though homemade ice cream isn’t easy to make, they said yes.
When I said, “This is important to me,” my family listened. They did not ask questions.
Interestingly, as I was honing in on what was important to me, I was better able to see and hear what was important to them.
For my husband it was a grand opening of one of his offices. There would be threats of rain and suffocating summer heat. There would be small talk with strangers when I wasn’t feeling great. Yet, those factors were irrelevant because it was important to him. We all said yes.
For my younger daughter it was having game night. She set up the board and declared that she’d really wanted to play the game as a family. I was tired. I wanted to curl up in my bed. I would have rather played Scrabble. But it was important to her, so we said yes.
For my older daughter, it was having a French mini market on a neighborhood corner one Saturday morning. Although it required several trips to the store for her to purchase supplies and we knew the kitchen wouldn’t look the same after she finished, we still said yes.
“It’s important to her,” I remember saying to my husband when he asked if all this was necessary considering my surgery was just days away.
Upon hearing those words, his face instantly softened. He understood.
Knowing there was a chance that something could go wrong during my surgery heightened my sense of what was most important. Like panning for gold, I felt as if I had a sifter that separated the meaningful gems of connection from the millions of grains of irrelevance. I felt as though I was given a super power enabling me to not only recognize, but also seize, what was important.
As my daughters and I waded in a cool stream days before my surgery, I remember thinking about my heightened awareness. I didn’t want to be this intentional only before surgeries or in times of tragedy. This was how I wanted to live every day—keeping what was important at the top of the priority list … keeping it in focus … keeping it close to my heart.
But I worried. I knew once I fully recovered it would be autumn and school would start and the onslaught of activities, demands, duties, and distractions would threaten to bury the meaningful moments of life.
Perhaps you can relate.
In times like these, it’s tempting to throw up our hands and say, “Why fight it? This is just how it is. This is just how it will be.”
But we can’t do that. We just can’t. Take it from me, the one who nearly let distraction, perfection, and internal pressure sabotage everything that was most dear.
Here’s what we can’t forget:
We cannot forget what it feels like to be in a stadium with thousands of people all singing the lyrics to the same song.
We cannot forget what it feels like to have a child sitting in front of us singing to us, only to us.
We cannot forget the feeling of watching our loved one from a distance doing a job he was meant to do.
We cannot forget the feeling of watching our loved one up close, close enough to feel his breath.
We cannot forget the feeling of leaves crunching under foot.
We cannot forget what it feels like to bear our soul and hear the words, “Me, too.”
We cannot forget the feeling of soft lips pressed against our forehead.
We cannot forget to notice the morning dew when it clings to a blade of grass.
We cannot forget to watch bread rise in the oven and taste the comfort that comes with the first bite.
My friends, the weight of distraction, productivity, excess, and hurry are heavy. Their pull is strong—strong enough to threaten our ability to hear and see what’s important.
But stare at a heart rate monitor long enough and it all comes back to you real quickly.
Have a friend say, “I’ll give you my kidney,” and it all comes back to you real quickly.
Listen to your child pray, “God, please let Mama wake up,” and it all comes back to you real quickly.
The day I got home from the hospital, a package was waiting for me. It was my new book, Hands Free Life. It had been printed by the publisher and finally, finally I was holding the finished copy in my hands.
I began to read. I quickly found myself on page 167. As I read the Hands Free House Rules, tears dripped down my cheeks. What was important stared me right in the face.
Hands Free House Rules
In our house, we speak kindly and respectfully even if we disagree.
In our house, human beings take precedence over electronic devices.
In our house, today matters more than yesterday.
In our house, we set out to encourage one person each day.
In our house, we look for the blessings. (When they’re not obvious, we keep looking.)
In our house, we have screen-free time so we can hold pets, people, and creative passions in our hands.
In our house, we XO Before We Go, even if our hands are sticky, even if we’re running late.
In our house, we look into each other’s eyes when we speak.
In our house, we open our door and say, “Come as you are.”
In our house, there’s time for “one more”—one more hug, one more cleansing breath, one more prayer, and one more page of our favorite book.
In our house, grace is served daily. We’re all learning here.
In our house, we love “as is.”
In our house, there’s nothing wrong with doing nothing every now and then.
In our house, we put living, laughing, and loving at the top of the priority list.
In our house, there is room for mistakes and room to breathe.
© Rachel Macy Stafford 2015
Over the past few weeks, the words written above were mailed out as a framed print to special supporters of the Hands Free message. And even though the recipients did not write these words, their reaction to them was similar to mine.
One friend said she tried to read it aloud to her family, but couldn’t get through it because of her tears. The framed print now sits on the kitchen table and they read it as a family each morning.
Another friend said that reading it aloud instantly made her feel calmer. She’s been choosing to focus on one rule each day to set her intention.
Another friend said it inspired her family to think about what was most important to them, and they’d written their own house rules.
Looking at her family’s intentions written in the most exquisite font available—kid font—made me cry. But then suddenly joy took over, and it was the most intense joy I’ve felt in a long time. This is what I realized:
The pull of distraction, perfection, productivity, materialism, and hurry is strong, yes, but the human heart is stronger!
My friends, we haven’t forgotten what is important! We know it. It’s inside us. Sometimes it takes surgery, tragic events, and challenging life trials to remind us what’s most important, but we haven’t forgotten.
We just need to make it a daily practice to say, “This is important.”
Maybe it’s nightly conversation.
Maybe it’s quiet space for meditation or prayer.
Maybe it’s a do-nothing moment on the back porch.
Maybe it’s sitting down at the table together.
Maybe it’s laughing ‘til our belly hurts.
Maybe it’s watching the sun set or a storm roll in.
Maybe it’s music.
Maybe it’s art.
Maybe it’s taking a brisk walk with the sun on our face.
Maybe it’s homemade cookies.
Maybe it’s a handwritten note.
Maybe it’s a leisurely drive with the windows rolled down.
My friends, hone in on what’s important to you and then sift, sift, sift—shake those millions of distractions away so you can hold those treasured moments in your loving hands.
Then one day, maybe sooner than we think, this rule will apply to all of us:
In our house, when someone says, “This is important,” we don’t ask questions. We open our eyes, our hands, and our hearts and hold as much as life as we possibly can.
Friends of The Hands Free Revolution, I am thrilled to tell you that the HANDS FREE HOUSE RULES can be in your home too! The exquisite print is now available in the HANDS FREE shop! Use the code: HOUSERULES at checkout for free shipping on any items in the shop through September 4. International shipping will receive a shipping discount.
I cannot believe it, but my new book, HANDS FREE LIFE, releases ONE week from today! That means there is just more week to take advantage of the amazing pre-order bonus (receive a free eBook download of my New York Times bestseller, HANDS FREE MAMA with any pre-order of HANDS FREE LIFE). Click here for details.
The reviews being posted by early readers of my book have made my heart so full. If you want to know more about the book and see how it is impacting people’s lives, I would be honored if you read what some of the most talented bloggers on the Internet are saying about HANDS FREE LIFE. Also, I have been sharing Hands Free inspiration in lots of welcoming spaces. I have listed this week's guest posts below the reviews. Thank you so much for your support!
- “Qualifications” by Julia from Studies in Hope
- “Hands Free Life: Filling the Spaces With Connective Silence” by Lisa of Barefoot Barn
- “Stop Believing Shame's Lie's (And a Giveaway to Help)” by Caroline of A Wish Come Clear
“The Gift of Being You” by Diane of Totlosophy
- “How We Can Live Vacation Everyday” by Noelle of Noelle Kirchner
- “Prepare to Change Your Life” by Carin of Carin Kilby Clark: The Mommyhood Mentor
- “How Noticing Can Deepen the Relationship With Your Child” by Andrea of Yummy Mummy Club
- “Hands Free Life” by Amy of Parenting Beyond Punishment
- “The Power of Me Too” by Kaitlin of Kaitlin Curtice
- “A Hands Free Life: We All Need This” by Jen at Jen Fit’s Playground
- “Hands Free Life Book Review” by Jane of Jane Ammon Photography
My writing can be found this week …
9/1 Purposeful Faith: “A Moment We All Need to Give Ourselves“
and Carin Kilby Clark: “Vow to Breathe”
9/2 Amy McCready “The Single Most Important Parenting Action We Can Do Today”
9/3 Playing With Words 365 “Using Lifelines to Live More & Love More”
9/4 Simple Homeschool “Going Beyond ‘I Love You' To Build Up a Soul”