I used to trade loving goodbyes for on-time morning departures.
I used to trade vacation days for getting home early to get things accomplished.
I used to trade peace for pride … cuddling for career advancement.
I used to trade authenticity for approval.
I used to trade joy for control … happiness for perfection.
I used to trade my safety and the safety of others for prompt text message replies.
I used to make a lot of bad trades – trades that were not in the best interest of a fulfilling and joyful life. While I don’t make those particular trades anymore, I still make bad trades. And lately, they’ve been called to my attention.
I trade food enjoyment for calorie counting and wearing a certain size.
I trade sleep to meet deadlines.
I trade peace of mind to reach career goals.
I trade healthy blood pressure readings for high quality content.
And for what? For what?
At the end of my life, my pant size, my book sales, and my ability to meet a deadline will be irrelevant.
I know this. I’ve pretty much always known this. But it didn’t really sink in until I saw this truth with my own two eyes.
The day before his life ended, my father-in-law rejoiced in the fact his children and grandchildren surrounded him. He delighted in the countless memories of time spent with people he loved. Besides those two things, nothing else mattered – not how much money he had in his bank account, not the size of his house, not his list of career accomplishments.
Due to his cancerous tumor, Ben pretty much lost his appetite. But on his bucket list was having a slice of homemade cherry pie. My husband made a cherry pie for his dad. Ben took one bite, and his eyes lit up. With one bite, he was flooded with memories of eating cherry pie at family gatherings throughout his lifetime. Ben put the fork down after one bite – he didn’t need any more. Love would sustain him.
Relationships, memories, and love. That was all he needed in the end.
A few days after Ben died, my husband and I walked together on one of the busiest downtown streets in the country. With no destination in mind, we walked along the bustling city street processing the week’s traumatic events out loud.
Suddenly, my husband stopped walking. Right there in the middle of the crowded sidewalk, he grabbed my hand and declared, “I want to have more fun.”
I can still smell the muggy spring air, the exhaust of the cars rushing past, the thunder storm brewing off in the distance. I haven’t forgotten my husband’s words, and I don’t think I ever will. I want to have more fun too, but “having more fun” can be elusive. What does it mean? What does it look like in a life with duties and responsibilities?
Well, I recently got an idea while listening to my current song obsession, Suit and Jacket. Judah and the Lion sing:
“I ain't trading my youth for no suit and jacket
I ain't giving my freedom for your money and status
So don't say I'm getting older
Cause I'll say it when I do.
Cause everybody I know, everybody I know
Is growing old, is growing old too quickly
And I don't wanna go
So how am I supposed to slow it down so I can figure out who I am?”
Hmmm … perhaps putting an end to my bad trading practices is a good starting point to having more fun. Through Judah’s musical inspiration and some divine guidance from Ben, I’ve made some decisions.
I’ve decided …
I’m not trading a conversation with my daughter for a mindless scroll on Instagram.
I’m not trading a proper hug and kiss to get out the door on time.
I’m not trading unity for getting in the last word.
I’m not trading “likes” for real love.
I’m not trading sanity for sales.
I’m not trading a double scoop of chocolate chip ice cream for a number on the scale.
I’m not trading real conversation for an unblemished reputation.
I’m not trading a walk in the sunshine for stacks of folded laundry.
I’m not trading stellar sunsets for stellar stats.
I’m not trading sound mental health for an empty email inbox.
I’m not trading family tranquility for 24/7 availability.
And just in case I needed a little more encouragement to ditch the bad trades once and for all, I stumbled onto a visual representation of a 90-year-old lifespan in years, months, weeks, and days. I was taken aback. It was hard to believe that even people blessed to live ninety years could fit all their days on a single sheet of paper!
But it was when the author measured life in events and activities that I was most intrigued. He estimated he had 60 Superbowls left … 15 more presidential elections … 60 more jumps in the ocean … 300 more books for to read for pleasure. The ocean jumps and books really got me. As I read on, I saw how many “in-person” times with his parents the author had used up over his lifetime and how many he estimates to have left. That visual was the most painful of all. The author wrote:
“When you look at that reality, you realize that despite not being at the end of your life, you may very well be nearing the end of your time with some of the most important people in your life.” [source]
I took screen shots of those powerful visuals to keep as reminders, but I was quite certain I wouldn’t forget them. Little did I know these visuals would immediately alter my behavior in ways I’ve never experienced before.
- When I call my parents, I make a point to ask how they’re doing and listen, really listen.
- When Avery says, “Let’s play Euchre as a family,” I don’t look at the clock; I look at her face and her sister’s face; I laugh and smile because it’s just a game, and we’re all together.
- When Natalie asks me to try the cake she made, I don't hesitate to estimate calories. I give a whole-hearted yes, then savor her independence, her proud smile, and the best coconut cake I’ve ever tasted.
- When my friends invite me to try a Pilates class, I say yes because I want to make my body as strong and as durable as possible and because friendship gives me life.
- When my husband says it’s time to plant a tree in memory of his dad, I help my family transfer the dirt down the hill while giving thanks for the healing and hope that’s taking place beneath the surface of pain.
When I say yes to showing up fully in these life events, I realize I am making a trade every single time. I’m trading productivity, control, efficiency, and perfection for experiences that give me joy and contentment. My work is waiting more. My phone is being abandoned more. My to-do lists are being neglected more. My email box has never been so full, but it’s okay.
At last, it’s okay.
Because whether we are gifted with nine more days, nine more months, or nineteen years on this earth, there’s peace in knowing we’re making good trades … the best kind of trades … the kind of trades that feel like we’re ending the game with the best possible hand. Against our chests we hold: Relationships, Memories, Purpose, Faith, and Love.
“Didn’t we have fun?” we’ll ask our beloveds on that final day.
The answer will be clear in the loving faces that surround us and the experiences we’ve shared.
And nothing else will matter.
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Friends of the Hands Free Revolution, please consider ONLY LOVE TODAY for your Mother's Day gifts, graduation gifts, end-of-the-year teacher gifts, or ‘just because' gifts. It is available at Target, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon, among other retailers worldwide. There are also beautiful watercolor notecards with my 10 favorite quotes from the book now available in the Hands Free Mama Shop. Thank you for being a radiant light on this journey.
Granny P says
Oh goodness, the cherry pie made me cry. Nice post. You’ve reminded us to live authentically.
Rachel Stafford says
This makes me smile. Thank you. I am glad I shared the pie. Love to you, friend.
Reading this, I fell in love with “more fun and savoring every moment”….then I read about Judah and the Lion and got distracted as I babysat Judah growing up. His mama babysat me growing up. Good times!
Rachel Stafford says
Wow, Melody! What a blessing to care for such a talented and incredible young man! I have followed Judah and the Lion since they opened for Mat Kearney a few years ago. Their lyrics are some of the most powerful/meaningful I’ve ever heard in my life. Sending love to you and their amazing family.
I have my own business. I feel like I work all the time. I have almost zero fun – and, being single, no one to have fun with. But you’ve inspired me to try. My heart’s cry is that there has got to be more to life than writing copy to sell supplements all the time. I need to find some time to laugh and play. Somehow. Thank you for reminding me about what’s important.
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, Deanna. I am so touched to know who is on the other side of the lifeline I threw out! I hear determination in your words! Keep listening to that inner voice inside you asking to live a little, play a little, have fun a little. Who knows where it might lead. Keep me posted!
A poem my mom posted on the wall when I was kid lodged in my head somehow. Flash forward 25 years and it’s now the mantra I keep in mind with my own children: Cleaning and scrubbing can wait ’til tomorrow, for children grow up, we’ve learned to our sorrow. So quiet down cobwebs, dust – go to sleep. I’m rocking my baby. And babies don’t keep.
Dust just turns into more dust. Messes just become messier. But children? They grow up and move out. Our elders, they grow older and pass away. Ask me what’s more important – a spotless house or making memories with people in my life?
Jodie Utter says
Beautiful, poignant, and heart felt. Thank you. Your words remind me of a few more I came across recently and I couldn’t agree with them more. “Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. Maybe it’s about un-becoming everything that isn’t really you so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place.” Sounds like you’re busy with the un-becoming. Bravo!
Laura McCarthy says
This is exactly what I’m working on right now. Your earlier writing has helped me prioritize connection and now I’m working on adding more joy. Have you heard of the phrase “slices of joy”? The idea is that we practice being more mindful of all the small moments of joy, those single bites of pie, and really soak them in to make the most of those wonderful moments and the everyday ones, too.
As so often, your words help me release the tension and anger and frustration into healing tears. I struggle to have fun. There are so many things to be done, there are so many sleepless nights to catch up on. I think my daughter considers homework time together to be quality time – a bit sad. I often wonder what they will say about me when they talk about their childhood. My own parents are many miles away. My father’s health is failing, my mother is being crushed by 24 hour caring. I am very conscious of how little time I have left with them. The visual that hit me hardest was about the number of winters left. I loved to ski before I had children. How many more ski trips will I be able to make in my life? It’s funny what makes you feel your own mortality.
LOVE! As always, you put so much into perspective for me and I can see it so clearly as a “trade”. This is so potent and viable in my life, right now! Thank you.
Thank you for this. <3
Laura Jane says
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, too, Rachel — having more fun with my husband and kiddos! Watching them smile and hearing them laugh! (Maybe even making them laugh!) It seems so hard to do when there is so much work involved in the little years. But, as always, you’ve made it tangible and doable with your stories! Thank you dear one. Hugs and blessings !
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, sweet friend. I love to hear from you.
Rachel, your article reminded me of when my Grandfather stopped by my home unexpectedly one day. He never visited me at my home before and though I might have felt like I knew him more as a child, at the time I didn’t feel real close to him. However, he was my Grandfather. I gave him a tour of our home since we had to fix a lot of things in it. As he was saying he had tears in his eyes. I didn’t know how to react but found out later that he had cancer. He died within a few weeks.
I agree that we need to enjoy the people we love more than the perfect job, yard, house, etc. We recently downsized to a smaller more inexpensive home so we could have more time to do this. It’s so worth it!
Loved the article!
Melissa K says
Every weekend for the past month we have been working hard to prepare our house to out it up for sale. Last week I took a look at the long to do list and my son came up to me and asked to play a game. I went to say No, but the look in his eyes made me say Yes, absolutely I’d love to play a game. We played pick up sticks for 15 minutes and I think it helped me more than I knew I needed it. Listen to your heart, it knows. Thanks for the beautiful reminder!!!
Thank you!! You words are a God Breeze today!
Thank you so much for the reminder. It is hard through the busyness of life to remember who vs what is important. Wishing you more laughs and love.
I look forward to your blog posts even though they are often painful for me to read… painful reminders that I often get so swept up in the tide of my crazy, modern life that I “forget” to make good trades. Thank you for continuing to remind me!