As we flew on an airplane to attend my father-in-law’s funeral three months ago, I worked on a special project. The week before, I’d sat by his bedside and recorded a collection of messages and memories he wanted me to relay at his funeral. Some of the more personal messages to his children didn’t seem fitting for public consumption, so I spent the 90-minute flight going through my notebook and handwriting personal notes to four special people: his two sons, his daughter, and his son-in-law. I remember feeling pleased that I’d be able to give them the notes after the funeral. I put them securely in a plastic bag and set them down next to my bag.
On the morning of the funeral, I went to retrieve the notes. They were not there. I rummaged through my bag only once knowing the search would be futile. In my mind’s eye, I could see the cards in the slick plastic bag drifting further and further away upon our descent.
The cards were gone.
Now this is when something odd happened. I did not freak out. I did not start swearing or tearing through my luggage. I did not cry. I did not frantically try to re-create the notes. And most surprisingly, I did not shame myself for being so careless. Instead, I said three words to myself, “It’s not time.”
For a Type-A, master planner/control freak, I was eerily calm. Although I could not explain it, I felt quite certain this was not the day the notes were to be distributed. I decided to trust in the fact they’d drifted away for a reason, and I’d know when it was the right time to deliver them.
Fast-forward to one week ago. I was standing in the card isle picking out Father’s Day cards. As I always do, I reached for the Grandpa cards. We lovingly called my father-in-law “GB” for Grandpa Ben. His granddaughters always sent him a card on every holiday. On his last days on earth, GB revealed that he’d kept them all safely in a box.
When my brain reminded me that I didn’t need to send GB a card, my eyes filled with tears. I immediately thought of my husband and how he would feel on this first Father’s Day without his dad.
My brain said.
Remember the cards that drifted away? Now it’s time.
I’ve spent the last several days pouring over the pages of notes I took for Ben, making sure to pull out the pieces that needed to go to each one of his children. I imagine them reading the sentiments on June 18, loving words their father wanted to be sure they knew. I'm quite certain these words will bring a little peace on a difficult day. The cards will be delivered – not on my timetable – but on a divine timetable, and that is always perfect timing.
It feels odd to say I’m glad those cards drifted away, but I am. The control freak in me often needs tangible proof that beautiful things happen we release life from our suffocating grip and just let it breathe.
This talk of time reminds me of one of my favorite special education students who used to visit my classroom when he was having a hard time. His first-grade teacher was able to sense when an eruption was coming, and I’d be summoned. Occasionally, the child had to be carried by staff members trained in restraint, but most of the time, he walked to my classroom on his own. My student would fill the corridor with all the reasons he hated school, schoolwork, or kids who got him in trouble.
“I’m too old for a time out, Mrs. Stafford,” he said during one of those walks after we’d worked together for three years. “I just need time … just time. Period.”
What he said made sense. When he came to my classroom, we didn’t talk at first. He’d sit in a quiet area, and I’d play Enya’s relaxing music. After fifteen minutes would pass, he’d be ready to talk and listen. Then eventually, he’d go back to his regular classroom ready to work.
When we met for lunch several years ago, this now grown-up young man chuckled when he told me he feels instantly calm whenever an Enya song comes on.
“Things don’t always go my way,” he said, suddenly getting serious, “But instead of getting mad or doing something I’ll regret, I just give myself time. Thank you for teaching me that.”
I don’t think it’s any coincidence Enya's music is played at the end of my Pilates class. I began taking Pilates shortly after my father-in-law’s death which coincided with a painfully dark night of depressive thoughts. Between my father-in-law’s sudden demise and my own red flag, I knew I needed to do something different. Self-care was not optional … and two friends just happened to invite me to Pilates.
It was just what my never-stop moving brain and body needed.
I lie down on the reformer and glide away, feeling strength build in my muscles and my core. My mind goes blank as I focus only on the movements. Once in awhile, I get tears in my eyes when poignant song lyrics come on the overhead speaker like, “Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live / Maybe one of these days you can let the light in / Show me how big your brave is.” In those moments, I feel grateful for the difficult period that brought me to this place where I give myself time.
Enya typically comes on for the final stretch which makes me smile and marvel at the way life’s most important messages pop up right when you need them instead of when you desperately want them.
Between the drifting cards, my former student, and my Pilates practice, I am reminded that Time is so much more than minutes on a clock. The answer to the questions that plague us and the pains that ail us is so often Time.
“It’s not time … so wait.”
“I need time … so pause.”
These were the answers this week when my friend asked me advice for his shaky marriage.
These were the answers this week when my child was not acting like herself.
These were the answers this week when I was pressed to start writing my next book.
These were the answers this week when my parents wanted to talk through plans for growing old.
The answer to life’s greatest unknowns is often Time, but it seems too simple or too inactive so we instead we panic, cuss, scream, overreact, worry, or tighten our grip. I've learned it is so much better to let Time work for our benefit by saying to ourselves, “It’s not time … I trust I’ll know when it is.”
I would be remiss if I failed to conclude this post with a powerful message I received this week. With permission, I share one last beautiful thought on the answer of Time …
My husband passed away very suddenly six months ago. Like your father-in-law, he was named Ben. He was also Dad to our two gorgeous children, ages thirteen and fifteen. Your posts over the past few months have been extremely poignant for me. But I wanted to thank you for an earlier post where you shared gratitude starters to show appreciation and love to another person.
Before Father’s Day last year, I sat down with the kids and we wrote some of those for their dad. “Five words to describe you are…. My favorite thing about you is…. Our family wouldn’t be the same without your…” But we never finished the job, so he never received it. But the jar was used in another way. My daughter, then twelve, wanted to honor her Dad at his funeral but struggled to find the words. I remembered the jar of sentences and brought them out. She used those to make the most beautiful PowerPoint presentation about her dad with her words written across special family photos. Those sentence starters were just the prompts she needed. Thank you for the words you have – words of encouragement and words of love which prompt other words of love.”
My inner control freak wept at the sight of this tangible proof that time works for our benefit if allow it to.
My friends, miraculous things happen when we answer life’s uncertainties and perplexities with Time.
Time is a pair of glasses enabling you to see better.
Time is a warm blanket giving you comfort.
Time is a permission slip allowing you a reprieve.
Time is a cushion between life's bumps and bruises.
Time is a connector, an anchor, a lifeboat.
Time looks like nothing, but it is everything.
Like four cards that left my possession on Flight 546 and will return on June 18 to grateful hands, Time fills life’s emptiest voids with peace.
But you’ll never know how fulfilling it can be until you trust in Time, and let life breathe.
Dear friends of the Hands Free Revolution, I am grateful for the continued support of my latest book, ONLY LOVE TODAY, which provides daily guidance and intentions for taming controlling ways, seeing the positives in situations and people, and loving yourself and others “as is.” It has also been a blessing to see people discovering my first two books, HANDS FREE MAMA and HANDS FREE LIFE through my latest labor of love. I am touched that my books are being called “meaningful summer reads” to fill our days with connection, compassion, and purpose. One final note, I've been invited to speak this fall at several events. Although more details and ticket links will come in August, my friends in Cincinnati, Pennsylvania, and Michigan may want to make note of the following dates:
Cincinnati, OH – October 14, 2017
Indiana, PA – October 19, 2017
Ann Arbor, MI – November 18, 2017
Thank you for walking beside me. I am so grateful for your presence and your support.
Wow! Three little words that are powerful. I must remember this!! Thank you Rachel.
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, Lea! I appreciate this so much!
We always feel like we have to know the answers now or get it done so it’s off our list. “I need time” Such a freeing and honest thing to allow ourselves to process, and to put God’s timing before our own. Thank you for your story, and the insight!
This is so perfect! Thank you so much for another amazing post. You are unbelievable special and have a wonderful way of teaching us how to be just as special! Thank you!
Caroline McGraw says
Rachel, I loved hearing this story; as a fellow “control freak”, I’m so proud of you for listening to that still small voice that told you it wasn’t time for those cards yet.
Something similar happened with me recently, as I was searching for plane tickets for an anniversary trip to Ireland for my husband and me. Going to Ireland has been a lifelong dream for me, and finally we decided that this was the year. I was so excited … but then I just could not find tickets that were even remotely affordable without nightmarish itineraries for our desired dates.
I tried several different sites over the course of a few weeks, but the search felt futile. The harder I looked, the less I saw.
Then I remembered the “God box”. At the suggestion of a friend, I bought a little wooden box and started scribbling concerns on slips of paper and placing them inside as prayers. Whenever I place a paper in the box, I consider it taken care of. It’s a simple ritual, but it really helps this control freak to let go a little. 😉
I felt a little foolish writing a plane ticket prayer, but I did it. I decided to trust that when the time was right, I’d find the tickets. And of course you know how this story ends. A week or so later I felt a little nudge to go online and I found astonishingly good fares that also allow us to see some of our closest friends.
Sure, there’s a logical explanation – an airline opened a new route and put on a short-term promotional sale – but I had this sense of purpose, this feeling that it wasn’t random, that I was being helped. And I’m so grateful that both of us were able to experience that.
So long story short – too late! – thank you for the reminder to trust in time. 🙂 <3
Rachel Stafford says
I love this story, Caroline. And I love everything you share about your struggles and personality traits. They’re similar to mine, and I always breathe a sigh of relief when I read your blog. You are such an inspiration.
I always come to your blog when I feel uncentered, scattered. Thank you for always being able to bring me back to what is important.
Side note, I’m reading both Hands Free Mama and Only Love Today to help me through this challenging season of parenting and I’m glad to say I’ve already made some progress on softening as a mom. Thank you so much for all that you share and do!
Rachel Stafford says
Oh what a gift to hear this, Kathy! Thank you!!!
Simply beautiful. Thank you. You are a gift.
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, dear Jodie. That felt like a great big hug.
Jodie Utter says
I’m just so in love with all of that. I worked in special ed for five years and Enya has always been my jam, so I am really feeling you right now. And similarly to you saying to yourself, ‘it’s not time’, I’ve been telling myself lately about all of the pain in life, ‘bring it, and I will use it all.” Not my notion, someone else’s, but I read it at the time precise time I was meant to. Just like I was meant to read your post just now. The universe is well been so beautifully.
Jodie Utter says
Well shoot, I voice recorded that and didn’t voice it very well I guess, at the end I meant to say the universe is so beautifully woven.
Rachel Stafford says
This made me smile and sigh with relief. You are a comfort to me today, dear Jodie. Thank you for what you do and more importantly, who you are.