I’ve come a long way since the days of tearing myself down in front of a mirror. But once in awhile, certain life circumstances cause doubt to creep in and I feel myself going down a slippery slope. For the past several weeks, I have been sliding. You see, I’ve been preparing for this momentous day, September 8th, for many months—years, actually. It’s the day my new book, Hands Free Life, releases. And as this day has gotten closer, the Judger in my Veins has gotten louder.
I have been working longer hours than usual. I have not been getting proper sleep or engaging in self-care practices that are critical for my health and wellbeing. And even though I know this feeling of overwhelm is only temporary and life will go back to normal soon, the Judger in my Veins has been hitting all my vulnerable spots. Like a heckler from the crowd, there’s a judgmental comment on just about everything:
A good mom would have said yes to that request.
A good friend would have picked up instead of letting it go to voicemail.
A good spouse would be listening better right now.
A good writer writes about current events.
A good daughter would ask her parents more questions instead of just talking about herself.
A good post-surgery patient would not be up at one o’clock a.m. writing.
For the past several weeks, the list of judgments against me has been long and relentless. And it was only five days ago that I fully acknowledged what I was doing to myself and how imperative it was to stop. I was in the middle of responding to a blog reader who was going through a challenging time. In her message, she confessed to reacting to her daughter in ways that were damaging and hurtful. Although the reader had recently experienced some success with being more positive and calm, she felt like a failure. This was my response:
I know it does not feel like it right now, but you are doing many things right. You are asking yourself hard questions. You are asking for help. You are staying calm in the face of extremely hurtful words and reactions from your child. I am certain you will get through this difficult period because your love and commitment to your daughter is evident in the words you write. I have something to help you get started. This is your homework tonight: I want you to notice all positive interactions you have with her and any positive actions she does. Do it for yourself. Do it for her. And then speak of them. “I appreciated the kind voice you used to talk to me just then.” Or “I love the way you dug into that meal I made! That makes me feel good.” Or “I love how you treated your sister/brother just then. You are good at figuring out how to help.” Notice her face when you say these things – even if it is not a smile, look for a more relaxed expression or a sense of relief. Anytime you to see a tiny glimmer of light on her face, grab it. Hold on to it. Let it give you hope for the next five minutes. Let it give you hope for better days. They are coming.
It was while proofreading my message before sending it that something struck me. This message was not just for my reader, it was also for me. I began to cry as I whispered a prayer of thanks to the One who had started me on this Hands Free journey and continues to guide me when I lose my way.
I knew exactly what I needed to do: Stop noticing everything I was doing “wrong” and notice the good – even the slightest positive actions. This is exactly how I helped my students with severe behavior disorders change their negative habits and begin to thrive. These were students who came to me after getting kicked out of multiple classrooms and schools. They came to me so hopeless and beat down. I was able to build them back up by noticing the good, any good, I could find. I could only imagine what the voice in their head sounded like so I tried to create a new voice. Sometimes it was difficult to see the good with problems so vast and attitudes so hostile, but the good was there.
“Wow. I just noticed you walked from the pencil sharpener to your seat while keeping your hands to yourself! Way to go!”
“You wrote your name on your paper. Look at how beautifully you made the L! Take a moment and celebrate yourself!”
“You scooted over and made room for your classmate. Thank you for being so kind.”
And the one I used every single day was:
“You are here! You made it! I am so glad you came to school today!”
It was quite amazing how different the students began behaving once the teachers in our classroom began pointing out every positive rather than every negative. By the end of the school year, most of the students were learning and cooperating in ways no one ever expected.
As for me, it’s only been five days of recognizing the positives. But with each recognition, I feel change happening. My inner dialogue is slowly sounding less judgmental and more celebratory:
I just used patience with my child when I felt myself getting very agitated. Whew! Good for me.
I just asked for help in editing an article. I did not try to push myself pass the point of exhaustion. And my friend was honored that I asked. Good for me.
I just took a small rest because I love my body, and I want it to heal.
I just said yes to hitting golf balls with my family and did not worry about time. I got lost in the moment and had a lot of fun. Good choice, Rachel.
My reaction was less than stellar, but at least I kept my cool. I sensed my voice was raising and caught myself before it escalated.
I said I was sorry and that is not easy for me. I am proud of myself.
With each small celebration, I felt more hopeful … more peaceful … and more like the person and parent I want to be. And then divine intervention stepped in to provide the assurance my weary heart most needed right now. A beautiful friend and writer posted a picture of Hands Free Life on social media. She’d only had the book a short time and already it was dog-eared, underlined, highlighted, and lovingly devoured.
She captioned the photo with this: “I have had a very busy couple of days, and every time I have a spare few moments I am spending them savoring Rachel’s book. I find myself perpetually on the verge of tears, marking pages I want to revisit, making notes, and most importantly, I have stopped several times, put the book down, and sought out one of the kids to hug … or to hatch a plan … or to NOTICE.”
All at once, I breathed what felt like the weight of a thousand bricks. And I heard the loving voice of assurance tell me what I’d been longing to hear:
It was hard. Writing this book was so very hard. You put your heart and soul into every page, but look! Look what’s happening. You can let it go now. You can let it go now. Goodness will come from it.
I had no idea how powerful two words could be.
And I want you to know too.
On the official release day of Hands Free Life, I want to inspire release in your heart, in your soul, in your mind. What do you need to be released from? Take what you need, my friends. Take the one that speaks to you and cling to it. Use it as a prayer, a mantra, or a daily vow—hold it close in anticipation of the goodness that is to come …
- Today I release myself from damaging words I’ve carried around for far too long. I am not my past. I am not the opinions of others. I am not too far gone to ever be redeemed. I am strong. I am resilient. I am a survivor. Today I stop looking at how far I have to go and look at how far I’ve come.
- Today I release myself from guilt over poor choices and lost opportunities. Choosing to berate myself each day for things I cannot change is only robbing me of today. Those who I have wronged have forgiven me. It is time for me to forgive myself. It is time to love myself.
- Today I release myself from the mistaken idea that what happened to me was my fault. It was not my fault. I was the victim then, but I am not going to be the victim now. I am worthy of happiness … peace … and freedom. I will not let anyone take another day of my precious life.
- Today I release myself from pain and insecurity. I will no longer let it dictate my life. I will no longer let it stop me from doing what my heart longs to do. I might only be able to stand for five minutes. I might have shaky hands. I might speak in a whisper, but today I push my story … my passion … my art … my ideas into the world and into the light.
- Today I release myself from judgment. I will train my eyes to notice all that I am doing right. I will offer myself grace when I mess up. I am only human after all. And by offering myself grace, I offer my loved ones grace. I no longer want to be so busy judging myself that I am unable to love myself.
- Today I release myself from the pressure to be perfect. Perfection is not possible and I am destroying my spirit trying to keep up this façade. Today I will let someone in on the real me. I will admit my hardest truths, my most painful scars, even if it is just to myself. Today I will stop spending so much time polishing the outside and start healing the inside.
- Today I release myself from having to have everything figured out. Things are not where I want them to be, but that doesn’t mean they won’t get there. Today I surrender the need to create a certain outcome and trust that it will work out as it should in time. Perhaps it will be even better than the plan I envisioned.
My friends, release yourself from the Judger in your Veins, the Bully in Your Head, the Inner Critic who can single-handedly destroy any shot you have at true happiness. See the good, any and all the good, in yourself, in your family, and in your life. And then celebrate what you find. Feel free to start with one affirmation that my most troubled student said after I recognized the good in him faithfully and consistently for six months.
“I got in trouble on the bus, Mrs. Stafford, but I am here. I made it to school. I am here!”
My friends, you are here. You made it. I made it. We made it.
Let us celebrate with every spark of life we have in our veins.
Friends of The Hands Free Revolution, thank you for making release day for Hands Free Life so special. It is your faithful companionship and unending support that make this journey so fulfilling. If you were inspired by the declarations listed in the “I release myself from …” section of this post, please know I have sprinkled such declarations throughout the book. You can purchase my new book online at amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com or visit any Barnes & Noble store near you. Scroll down to read the most recent book reviews written by some of the most talented bloggers and authors on the Internet. You can also hear me share my most helpful tips for living and loving in the podcasts with Dr. Laura of Aha parenting and Casey of Joyful Courage.
Today is extra special because I share this release day with an extraordinary author and friend. Emily Wierenga‘s memoir, Making It Home: Finding My Way to Peace, Identity & Purpose, is filled with so much hope and healing. This is what I emailed Emily after reading her manuscript back in February:
“I am so conflicted about this endorsement because I could never articulate what this book means to me and how it affected me. You are one of the most extraordinary writers I have ever encountered. Your way with words is magical. I find myself reading and re-reading passages that are simply works of art. I am in awe of your courage, as well. You touch on so many emotions we never want to talk about, but you share them and offer a sense of peace and comfort. There were so many divine affirmations in the pages of your book. And I must tell you, I have a friend who is really struggling. She kept coming to mind as I read your manuscript. I know she needs to read the hope-filled truths in your book. Do you mind if I send her the manuscript now that I am finished with it? I don’t think we should wait until the book comes out to provide her with this gift.”
Emily said yes, and it was exactly what my friend needed. Maybe it is exactly what you need. Please consider ordering the book and/or listening to Emily’s free webcast on Peace, Identity and Purpose with Liz Curtis Higgs, Holley Gerth, Joann Fore and Jennifer Dukes Lee on September 10th at 8 pm. Sign up here.
Here are the most recent Hands Free Life book reviews
I encourage you to check out these incredible bloggers–so much wisdom and beauty in their words:
Change Someone's Story by Katrina Anne Willis
A Book Review: Hands Free Life by Papa Green Bean
Eyes Up by Aileen of Small Steps of Change
Why I Needed a Break by Katie of Playing With Words 365
Hands Free Life is Here by Lori of Wisdom Comes Suddenly
9 habits for overcoming distraction, living better, & loving more by Anne of Domesblissity
A Life That Matters by Jenny of Raising Cat and Bug
Living Hands Free by Dana of Writing at the Table
How a ‘Hands Free Life' Has Changed Me by Tammi at Momma's Meals
Make Saying ‘No' a Habit by Jill at A Mom with a Lesson Plan
How to Find Joy in Motherhood by The Measured Mom
Hands Free LIfe Review by Dr. Jessica Michaelson
When Life is Chaotic, What Choice Do You Have? by Dayna of Lemon Lime Adventures
Hands Free Life by Amy of Beloved Atmosphere
Live Hands Free: Thoughts on Striving to Live Unplugged by Cassandra at The Unplugged Family
Hands Free Life: A Review by Regina at A Journaled Life
Recent Podcasts with Rachel: