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.
Thank you for the continued support and positive response to my National Bestseller, ONLY LOVE TODAY. Seeing how you're using this daily inspiration book fuels my heart in ways I cannot explain:
1) “I don't often write reviews. But I had to in this case. In short, one of the best purchases I've made this year. Read one, read twenty, every single mini-chapter deeply speaks to me. I start my day with this book and it inspires me. To be a better wife and mother. To be my best self. To show others God through my actions. Cannot say enough about this book.”
2) “Reading Only Love Today helps me pause and regroup. It's like a deep breath of grace and permission to move forward in forgiveness and love. I appreciate that I can pick it up any time and read two pages and walk away with food for thought. It doesn't take a huge investment of time to make a huge investment in your day. I have given this as a gift twice (so far). One to a fellow mother and friend who needed a little encouragement and another to a friend who lost her friend to cancer. I hope they will both feel acknowledged and validated and know that the love they put out each day is a beautiful gift. I know I will be restocking for many more.”
3) “Only Love Today. Three words to silence the bully, shift perspective, and live differently. This book is my latest treasure. It’s arranged in such a way that you can pick it up and read one passage daily but the non-date format organizes the book by seasons – Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter – which means this book extends grace before you ever begin. It’s a book to pick up whenever, wherever. So far it’s been my companion for my morning coffee, the carpool line, and while cooking dinner. And the more I read, the more I want. It’s a firehose of gentle reminders to breathe more, stress less, and choose love.”
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.