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”
We have so much to learn from each other. Thank you for continuing the hard and beautiful process of this sifting. Thank you for being honest with us, so that we are not afraid to be honest with ourselves. May we keep letting go of our fears to grasp more of our humanity with each other. Love you!
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, beautiful one. What an exquisite comment. I am so grateful for your presence in my life, in my home, and in Avery’s song.
Oh Rachel! What a beautiful post. You make me more happy and more free today. Thank you so much!
Rachel, you have simply outdone yourself here. I felt like I’d been slapped with a happy stick over and over in this piece. The cadence of the “We cannot forget…” section left those words floating like a joyful specter of what is to come, what is, and what was. Beautiful words lifted up from an even more joyous soul, like a prayer. Peace to you, as always.
Rachel Stafford says
How do you always know, Bill? How do you know when my writer’s heart feels insecure. “Maybe no one but you will get this,” that insecure little voice inside me said this morning when I got up at 5am to hit publish before my people awoke. And then here you are with the affirmations my heart needed. My heart is content. The inner critic is quiet. You have that power. Thank you for blessing me with it.
Katrina Willis says
Next time we’re together, we’ll play Scrabble. Love you. <3
Rachel Stafford says
Not sure what I will remember when I am 80, but I know I will remember the message I received from a beautiful soul offering me her kidney. It still makes me cry just thinking about it. How did I ever get so blessed to be protected and loved by you?
Shannon Walsh says
Rachel I was looking at your book on my shelf yesterday thinking I need to finish it. I want to bring it to our parents (I work in a school) and I want to have conversations that matter about things that matter. This morning stress, and distraction had me tied up in knots as I readied the kids for their day, and dreaded some of the items on my to do list. Thing is what is important to me wasn’t on the list. I cried reading this. Just the right timing. Thank you. And thank you for inspiring me to make more time for what matters. Hope to write as you do one day.
I do hope you are feeling better! I have had more kidney surgeries than I can count and one removed as well. I hope your recovery is going well and you feel yourself again soon! Hugs, Sandra
Diane Wade says
“The weight of distraction, productivity, excess, and hurry are heavy. Their pull is strong.”
Amen. It’s become so normal, that we need an actual PLAN, a WARCRY in order a to reject it.
I’m so grateful that you are sharing yours!
Chris Carter says
Oh wow wow wow…
THIS is amazing.
Thank you Rachel, for reminding me what is truly MOST valuable in this day, in each day… Sometimes the power of the ‘to do’s and the schedules and the selfish needs take precedent over what is and always should be MOST important.
I will be re-reading this a few more times to soak it all in…
I needed this inspiring perspective to shift my direction today.
I can’t wait to get your book!!
I always get so much comfort and reassurance from your words. “Our” road can be a lonely one at times, feeling like we are the only ones that are doing something different. The only ones that are not always busy, always going from one activity to another, the only ones with free weekends, the only ones not pushing our kids in school. But, what I have come to realize, is that the only ones that matter are here in my home, the ones that I hold closest to my heart. I am learning to care less about what everyone else is doing because my love and energy are focused right here. I can have that peace if I just allow it. It’s about what is really important, what we do in OUR house, that’s all that matters. And then, just enjoy. Thank you once again for helping me focus, and helping me to realize what and who really matter. Much love.
Jenny Johnston says
I love to know that there are others out there who are not always “SO BUSY”. I am sometimes made to feel like such an outsider because I refuse to push my children into 10 extra curricular activities they dont even like, or because we can spend an entire morning just reading on the couch (I homeschool).
Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate them….
I don’t ‘know’ you, yet I do. I know you through your words and that has helped me to better know myself. Thank you for sharing with such generosity of thought, so we may all reflect, grow, learn and have a fuller life.
I’m unexpectedly at home rather than with my colleagues for the first day of school – due to a fall – and it’s so easy to drift or feel weighted down with disappointment and sadness. My ship was ready to sail and when I couldn’t go into school, I felt grounded. After reading your post, I realized that just need to set my sails in a different direction.
My heart fills lighter and filled with hope. I’m excited about the possibilities that lay ahead. Good luck to you with your health and upcoming book launch. I look forward to reading it.
I love this post, and can relate. I had surgery in June of this year, and also had those same thoughts in the weeks before the surgery of trying to enjoy life and savor moments with my family. I was unsure whether I would be ok. Now, months later, I am starting to lose the ability to savor every day life. I needed this post as a reminder – thank you!
Donna Leavitt says
Thank you once again for another inspiring post!
Maren Breitwieser says
When I posted your article I put on the space above: And I was so surprised the first time I thought to ask my-then-small-children what they wanted to do during the summer/can’t remember their responses but I remember they were different than what I would have thought would have been a priority:-)
I am so moved by your post today – and your mantras. What a perfect reminder. Are you planning on selling the framed version on your website? Thanks.
Rachel Stafford says
Hi Leah – thank you! Yes, the information about purchasing the print follows the post. It does not come with a frame, but I got it at Hobby Lobby. Hre is the link to purchase. Use the code: HOUSERULES for free shipping on any order from now until 9/4. http://shop.handsfreemama.com/products/house-rules-print
Krystal Burton says
Your posts always seem to come at just the right time for me. Thank you Rachel for your inspiration. Just preordered the new book 🙂
John S Green says
I was just glanced at the framed IN OUR HOUSE gift sitting on my chair for inspiration this morning and I thought it said ‘Humor’ rather than ‘humans’!
So, after reading this post I checked and saw my error… but I was inspired to add another one to your marvelous list…
In our house, humor takes precedent over frowny faces.
Okay, now I will finish writing a book review… after a third cup of tea…
Shaina Braun says
Wonderful article. We had a cancer scare a few months back in our family. My husband suddenly showed signs of colon cancer (at 29!!). The time while we were waiting for the colonoscopy was pretty similar to what you described in your article! His interests shifted and I could tell that he wanted to spend more valuable time with his family!
All I can say is that I love, love, love your writings, your bravery, your honesty and your message. I send you love, gratitude and big hugs of thanks! You are amazing and encourage me to be amazing too!
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, Melissa. I appreciate your faithful companionship and loving encouragement along this journey!
Rachel: Thank you for writing this piece. I do not comment on your blog but please know that there are silent readers who read your blog. Each and every one of your post has a reminder that brings peace, patience and comfort to so many people out there. With much love and appreciation for all of your work.
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you so much for taking the time to let me know. It means a great deal to me, my friend.
This article was completely captivating. It’s amazing the result of putting your all into the present moment and appreciating all that is here, right now, in front of us. There’s this quote I heard from a movie recently that said, “You know, but that’s valid because if we are all gonna die anyway, shouldn’t we be enjoying ourselves now? You know, I’d like to quit thinking of the present, like right now, as some minor insignificant preamble to something else.” It just really made me think.
Thank you so much for the article. Much love and happiness to your and your family!
Jenny Johnston says
This post has inspired me to do something new….instead of a daily To-Do list…
I want to have a daily THIS IS IMPORTANT list.
What a change of perspective! Is it important that I empty the dishwasher or is it important that I get out the paint supplies so my 7 year old and I can paint together. I see my girls and I sitting together in the mornings to write our THIS IS IMPORTANT list for the day…
Thanks for the inspiration, as always
Rachel Stafford says
I love this, Jenny! Thank you for sharing & inspiring!
Rae Hodgetts says
I wish I had read this instead of the type of parenting books I read before my tall teens were born. Now I too have had a life-changing illness that has given me a different outlook on life but some family habits seem too deep to change now. But I’m going to make My Menfolk read it with me in any case. Thank you x
I appreciate your comments and reflection on life and the experiences you’ve had so far. Sharing those experiences may help you to process them and to perhaps show that you are a survivor of tough circumstances.
Hopefully you too can be strengthened by our responses to experiences we’ve had to bear. As a child raised by very accomplished parents, and then to face many unbelievably sad events with my father’s life, cut too short, and other stuff, I am somedays sad and angry.
Hopefully young adults and those younger develop the skills to rise above difficult circumstances and carry on. In the age of technology, smart phones, texting, insta-gram, etc. we still are human and need socialization, outside of those gadgets that reach someone else, someplace else. It saddens me to see people of all ages so attached and dependent upon something held in their hands (smart phones) with a zoned out, blank stare, reaching for someone out there on another electronic device, because of satellites and towers, and not seeing who is standing right next to them, wishing they would notice them.
I’m working on not focusing on technology too much as well. Especially when I can see any video anytime with a favorite cellist (Rostropovich, Yo YO Ma, Lynn Harrell) playing concerto’s or leading a master class, or view a cooking video…..
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