Hands Free Mama
a guide to putting down the phone, burning the to-do list, and letting go of perfection to grasp what really matters!
By Rachel Macy Stafford
ZONDERVAN Copyright © 2013 Rachel Macy Stafford
All rights reserved.
ACKNOWLEDGE THE COST OF YOUR DISTRACTION
One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon—instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today.
Maybe it was the recurring disappointment in my children's faces when I told them I didn't have time. Maybe it was the superficial hellos and hasty goodbyes offered to my spouse. Maybe it was the persistent feeling of unease—like I was missing something important. Maybe it was a combination of all these troubling factors that finally made me ask, Is this really how I want to live?
The first and most critical step in this journey is gaining awareness. I had to acknowledge all the precious moments I was missing and would continue to miss as a result of my distracted ways. Taking this difficult look inward was a prerequisite to beginning my transformation. If I hadn't first made an assessment of the irreparable damage caused by my tech-obsessed, multitasking ways, even my most sincere efforts to let go of distraction would have never happened (or lasted).
The pages that follow include three stories from my journey, which I hope will enable you to gain valuable awareness about the cost of your distraction. Then a "Hands Free Weekly Intention" offers a list of practical ways to help you curb your distracted tendencies and initiate meaningful interactions with the people you love. These intentions correspond with the letting-go action illustrated in the story. The intentions in this first chapter encourage you to take an honest look inward to assess the cost of your distractions.
Despite the pain you may experience while reading this chapter, do not let it discourage you. On this journey to grasp what really matters, discomfort often comes before growth; hurt before healing; regret before promise. By going to the darkest places in our soul, we find light. This first and most difficult step in the journey offers the chance of a new beginning—a chance to grasp the moments that matter from this day forward.
WHAT I WOULD HAVE MISSED
I still have the envelope. It's nestled among my most valuable documents, along with my marriage license, passport, social security card, and birth certificate—documents that prove I exist. It's not the content of the oversized envelope, stamped with the logo of our local zoo, that's worth saving—it's the message scribbled on the outside.
The words were written on the very day I vowed to stop missing the precious moments that make life worth living. Like rushing water from a swollen stream, the words filled my mind with such force that I was unable to hold them back. I scrambled through a kitchen drawer, looking for something to write on—as if my life depended on documenting these words.
At first glance, the uneven trail of words looks like a grocery list jotted while driving—imagine one hand holding the steering wheel while the other scribbles eggs, milk, and broccoli. There's no capitalization. The t's aren't crossed. The sentences have no punctuation. But all that only reveals my haste. I was certain I must remember every single word of this epiphany, which changed the course of my life. Here is a polished version of what I wrote:
What if you missed hearing the best part of your child's day because you were on the phone?
What if you missed a chance to inhale the sweet scent of your energetic child because you insisted on folding that basket of laundry before bedtime?
What if you missed a chance to console your worried spouse because of your mile-long to-do list?
What if you missed hearing an unknown childhood memory from your aging parent because you were too busy to call?
What if you missed a divine cloud formation in the sky because you were racing to the bank, the post office, and the dry cleaner before you had to pick up the kids?
What if one day you realized that all the opportunities you missed couldn't be retrieved?
But it was already too late.
What if one day you realized the best moments in life come in the mundane, everyday moments? But you were only fully present on special occasions.
What if, instead of rushing through the minutiae of your daily life, you occasionally paused and offered your presence?
What if you turned away from the distractions that monopolize your time and attention and grasped the sacred moments passing you by?
Turn off the music in the car.
Sit next to your child as she plays.
Lie in bed with her after you say good night.
Hug her and don't let go right away.
Tell her something you have been meaning to say.
Bend down and look her in the eye when she talks to you.
Do these things and see what might unfold. And once the moment is over, reflect back on that moment and realize this painful truth: If I had not paused, that precious moment is what I would have missed.
After covering the front and back of the envelope with my thoughts, I stared at it. Although not sure what I was supposed to do with what I'd written, I simply could not put the envelope back in the drawer. This once-ordinary envelope now exuded significance, so I set it on the counter with a sense of expectation —as if waiting for it to come to life.
I didn't have to wait long. Less than an hour later, the purpose of what I'd written became clear.
As I was making lunch as usual for my younger daughter, Avery, my laptop was open on the kitchen counter and my phone was an arm's length away. The devices battled for my attention with their respective dings and beeps. I answered their demanding summons with instant obedience.
Between incoming texts and email messages, I hurriedly applied peanut butter to a slice of bread. The sooner I could make my child's lunch, the sooner I could address a few pressing matters on my to-do list. My mind was preoccupied with an upcoming baby shower I was hosting, the low air pressure on the front right tire, and making copies of a community-picnic flier.
For some reason, I looked up. I knew my child was there, but this time I noticed her, really noticed her. My precious curly-haired daughter sat on the sofa sucking her thumb while gently rubbing her nose. Suddenly, I felt like I couldn't breathe. For the first time, I felt a new kind of urgency—an unsettling, uncomfortable, downright painful kind of urgency. Time was running out.
Then I did something atypical of my productive nature, something foreign to my type-A why-do-it-later-when-you-can-do-it-now mentality. Without even joining the two pieces of sandwich bread, I balanced the gooey knife on the open jar. Without closing the open bag of bread, without giving thought to the time, without contemplating the next item on the agenda, I went to my child. I felt God's presence encouraging me to let the other stuff go; nothing was more important than being with my daughter.
I sat down next to her and placed my arm around her small shoulders. She looked into my eyes, her whole face brightening. Her wide eyes instantly transformed into joyful slices of happiness. Quickly filling the space between my body and hers, she scooted over and melted into me.
What happened next was something no one had ever done to me.
She brought my hand to her pink lips and ever so gently kissed my palm.
As my eyes filled with tears, I knew this was it. My confirmation. My divine sign. In one simple, beautiful gesture, my daughter cemented my newfound pursuit to live Hands Free. I realized with clarity that this—this pausing when the whole world keeps on going—is living.
I wanted more tender moments like this. But first I had to admit that they wouldn't be so rare if I would simply stop for a moment. The truth is: No matter how much she wants to, needs to, or would love to, my child cannot kiss a moving target.
Living distracted had cost me countless precious moments, but thank goodness I didn't miss this one—because it changed everything.
My moving-target days had officially come to an end.
My daughters and I had just left the house for swim practice. We were less than five minutes from home when we noticed unusually dark clouds forming in the direction of the pool. As we discussed whether we should turn back, we heard the unmistakable sound of thunder.
Delighted by their unexpected day off from practice, the girls began to celebrate the impending rain with fits of laughter. As I turned the car around, my older daughter, Natalie, interrupted the impromptu party long enough to ask whether a celebration was truly in order.
"Do we have to do anything when we get home?" she cautiously asked the drill sergeant behind the steering wheel, who was known for having every spare moment accounted for and planned out.
The answer "Nope, not a thing" evoked cheers.
But when the garage door lifted, the open agenda I had just promised quickly filled. Somehow in our hasty comings and goings, I had failed to notice the disturbing state of our garage. The floor was littered with pool toys, winter gear, holiday decorations, and empty soda cans. It was a seasonal dumping ground. As I grabbed the industrial-size broom, I felt pleased to have this unexpected opportunity to get the garage back in order.
Donned in Hawaiian leis and ski masks, the girls began picking up random items so I could sweep the floor. As I glanced up to assess our trash-bag supply, a hushed, steady rain began to creep over our house. Despite the gentle precipitation, the sun was still shining in all its glory—a highly unusual weather phenomenon. I hesitated for a moment, wondering if I should mention it to the girls, who were being oddly productive. Not long ago, I would have kept quiet to avoid disturbing their efficiency.
But things were different now.
My Hands Free inner voice gently reminded me that I had never danced in the rain with my daughters.
I abruptly tossed the broom to the floor and ran to where the girls were crushing empty soda cans with enthusiasm. In a voice so urgent it actually startled them, I hollered, "Let's go see if there's a rainbow!" I darted out to our driveway, which was already dotted with tiny raindrops.
The girls quickly followed with delighted yet reserved smiles. Natalie looked like she was waiting for me to spoil the fun by adding, "But only for a minute. We don't want to get our clothes wet; plus we have lots of work to do!"
But when I extended my arms and began swirling in circles, my daughter relaxed and did the same with a look of pure joy on her face. For several moments, my children and I just stood there savoring the soft, slow rain as it tickled our bare arms.
Without warning, the silence of our enchanted moment was broken by urgent young voices from off in the distance. "Rainbow! Rainbow!" shouted two neighbor boys as they pointed excitedly to the west.
In our rain-induced reverie, my children and I had forgotten our initial intention. When we turned to look, our eyes filled with the most glorious sight. Not one, but two full-f ledged rainbows! Miraculously, we could see their arches from end to end.
My daughters looked at me and then at each other with the most amazed expressions. "Thank you! Thank you!" I cried out with joy. The boys across the street probably thought I was thanking them, but my gratitude for that glorious moment was meant for God alone.
My children instinctively stretched their hands toward the sky. At first, I thought they wanted to feel the rain once more, knowing it soon would be gone. Then it appeared as if they were trying to grasp those colorful silk ribbons suspended in the vibrant sky. Finally, I decided it really didn't matter what the children were doing or why. For in that magical moment, we caught a double rainbow. And it would be ours forever.
Shortly after my husband and I were married, we relocated from Indiana to Florida. The first year in our new surroundings was challenging. I was extremely homesick for my family and friends back home.
One evening I was driving home from work a little later than usual. I was heading west, and the horizon was in full view. I can still remember the comforting familiarity of John Mellencamp's raspy voice on the radio and the taste of tears on my lips. There was an empty feeling in the pit of my stomach, which I attributed to the longing I felt to see my parents.
Suddenly, as if someone had abruptly opened the curtains in a dark room, I was overwhelmed by a breathtaking display in front of me.
What was previously a typical evening sky was now a brilliant spectacle of pink, yellow, orange, and red. My eyes were drawn to the focal point of this unfolding masterpiece—the fiery wedge of the setting sun slipping over the horizon until it was completely gone, leaving in its wake wide brushstrokes of warmth and peace.
In that moment, my sadness slipped away as well. I felt an encouragement I hadn't known in months. The fact that I was in precisely the right location at exactly the right time to witness this display of hope was a great comfort to my broken soul.
Over the years, I've often thought about that particular sunset and how easily I could have missed it. There was a time not too long ago when I might have been talking on the phone, mentally reviewing a to-do list, or worse, quickly glancing at an incoming email or text message. By the grace of God, I was fully present and able to witness a once-in-a-lifetime Sunset Moment. Because, truth be told, this extraordinary sight would have happened whether or not I'd taken the time to watch. That astonishing display could have happened right in front of my face, but, had I been distracted, I would have missed it.
Now that I'm on a journey to grasp what really matters, I've discovered that everyday life has Sunset Moments too.
As my older daughter instinctively grasps my hand in the grocery-store parking lot and holds on far longer than necessary, I realize: This is a Sunset Moment.
As my husband and I sit with the television off and talk about everything from the antics of our children to how far we've come together, I realize: This is a Sunset Moment.
As I experience the tenacious strength of my sturdy legs that can run for miles without complaint, I realize: This is a Sunset Moment.
As I watch my seventy-four-year-old father make homemade ice cream with his doting granddaughters on the sunlit porch, I realize: This is a Sunset Moment.
Life's Sunset Moments are glorious, rejuvenating, and gratifying to behold—but when I'm caught up in daily distractions, they are so carelessly missed. If I just pretend to watch, I will miss them. If my hands are too busy doing other things, I will miss them. If my body is present, but my mind is not, I will miss them. If I hold on to distraction tighter than I grasp what really matters, I will miss Sunset Moments time and time again.
My highly distracted years cost me many precious moments. I can't get them back, and so I choose to focus on celebrating the possibilities that await me each new day. Just as the sun sets and rises again, each day offers a chance to grasp what truly matters despite the mistakes of the past. Although I may stumble along this journey toward a more meaningful life, experiencing a Sunset Moment is all I need to set my feet back on the right path. Because no matter what direction I'm heading, the Sunset Moments steer me toward the life I want to live.
HANDS FREE MAMA
What do you consider a valuable use of your time? Does your daily agenda reflect this?
Have your distractions taken an undeserved position on your priority list?
What parts of life do you not want to miss?
What are you going to do to ensure that you are grasping the moments that matter today so you don't live with regret tomorrow? (Continues...)
Excerpted from Hands Free Mama by Rachel Macy Stafford. Copyright © 2013 Rachel Macy Stafford. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
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