The Low-Hanging Fruit You Can’t Afford to Miss


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“Gonna walk this road
See where it leads
Gonna bless the flowers
Gonna bless the weeds
Gonna stay together
Nothing’s gonna pull us apart
Gonna walk this road and mend each others hearts.”
–Eric Bibb

*names have been changed

Even if his checkout line is a little longer, I always choose this particular bagger’s lane. This conscientious young man reminds me of a former special education student who brightened my first year of teaching. If I needed to move a chair, *Dan was there, refusing to let me lift a finger. If I was about to open a window, Dan was quick to say, “Let me do that for you, Miss Macy.” If he heard I was having car troubles, he’d offer to take a look during his lunch hour. Amazingly, Dan offered the same kindness to all his teachers and fellow classmates. Dan struggled with academics, but in altruism, he excelled.

This particular bagger resembles Dan in looks, but especially in mannerisms. The first time he bagged my groceries, I could see he was cut from the same cloth as my former student – he was a helper too.

“Hello,” said the young man as I pulled up my cart.

“How are you today?” I asked.

“Doing pretty good,” he said with a slight slur and a big smile.

As the man carefully bagged my items, he leaned against the end of the checkout stand to support his uneven posture.

We chatted about the heat and the cat treats I’d purchased as he filled my cart filled with bags. When he got to the two last bags, I watched curiously as he gently hung them in an unsuspecting place. A few inches below the cart handle were two tiny metal rungs just big enough to hold a bag.

“Wow! That’s a clever idea. I’ve never seen anyone do that before,” I commended.

My 13-year-old daughter’s head quickly turned from the row of celebrity magazines to see what all the fuss was about. Her face showed equal surprise. “That is a good idea!” she complimented the man.

The customer behind us peered around his loaded cart and nodded. “Hmmmm … that’s new to me,” he agreed.

Even the unsmiling cashier stopped ringing up items to look up. “That *Steve,” she said flatly, “He comes up with some good ones.”

And that’s when I turned and looked at Steve.

It was his moment … and he was shining in his moment.

“Can I borrow your idea sometime?” I asked the beaming young man.

Steve nodded enthusiastically, “Sure. Just be sure to get the bag right on the hook—and nothing too heavy,” he advised.

As my daughter and I pushed our cart away, I glanced back at Steve. He was still shining. He was still feeling his moment. Please never let me be too hurried, too distracted, or too impatient not to notice these things, I prayed in my head. I decided the best reminder would be a picture; I could make it my screensaver.

When I got to my car, I snapped this photo. Suddenly, three words came to mind: low-hanging fruit.

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In the business world, the term typically means a quick fix that produces ripe, delectable results or a target that’s easy to achieve.

Yet, there is low-hanging fruit in everyday life too.

It’s in welcoming faces, accepting voices, and loving touches.

It’s in quiet acts of generosity that seek no recognition.

It’s in heartfelt conversations, sustained eye contact, and lingering hugs.

It’s in the sky and the clouds and the birds and the wind.

It’s in the songs on the radio; it’s in our loved one’s laughter.

It’s in handwritten notes and handpicked flowers.

It’s in the words, “Have a nice day,” as you leave the building.

When you notice and acknowledge the low-hanging fruits of everyday life, gratitude washes over you and has the potential to spread to those around you, creating positive results.

But when you neglect to see the low-hanging fruit – perhaps due to hurry, impatience, over-commitment, need for control, perfection, distraction, exhaustion, or stress – you’re more likely to focus on what is wrong. This focus often results in complaining, criticizing, self-absorption, hostility, and despair, which also have an impact on those around you, but it is negative rather than positive.

But awareness is a game-changer.

Awareness is a life-changer.

Once your eyes have noticed ripe fruits, you can’t help but look for more.

Since spying those bags and witnessing Steve’s reaction, I’ve been on a mission to look for the low-hanging fruit in everyday life. Educator and poet Glenis Redmond has name for this life-changing practice. She calls it “cataloging beauty.” Let her powerful, poetic truths soak in for a moment:

“I am not against critique, but the world’s need to nick pic everything is a dis-ease. What I crave is holiness. We are so far away from the heart, when only the head leads with only what is wrong. How about the million beauties you walked by today and did not see? Name them. The world needs/ I need your catalog of beauty. What is your catalog of beauty?”

Thank you, Glenis. I have begun my catalog of beauty:

I found it in the handwriting of my 6-year-old nephew’s thank you card.

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I found it in my father’s birthday candles–seventy-seven years blessed–and the cherry pie my husband made for him.

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I found it in a flour-dusted counter top with apron-clad girls being supervised by a kitten in a fruit basket.

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I found it in a colorful butterfly that followed me on my walk.

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I found it in a new friendship, clearly orchestrated by something far greater than either of us.

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I found it in two rescue cats, one big, one little, that decorate our windowsills.

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I found in the voice of my daughter while being accompanied by her three best friends.

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In just a few days, this eye-opening practice has confirmed exactly how I want to live my life. I refuse to waste any more precious time cataloging my gripes and grievances. Instead, I want to catalog what is good and holy and helpful and true.

Because the truth is this:

The country needs
The community needs
The man who bags my groceries needs
My family needs
I need
my catalog of beauty.

And I know exactly where to find it.

Life’s divine beauties are right under my nose, ripe and ready, just waiting to be noticed.

I shall notice. I shall bring attention to them. And I shall watch them shine in their moment.

It will be mine too.

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Dear friends of the Hands Free Revolution, what is your catalog of beauty? Where do you find what is good and divine and replenishing? And if you realize you have been focusing too much on negative things, please don’t wallow in regret. Today matters more than yesterday … and awareness is everything. May you go through this new day with eyes & heart wide open. It’s never too late to begin your catalog of beauty. If you need a visual reminder, the “see flowers not weeds” metal cuff is helping many members of our community focus on what is good. If have joined me on Instagram, be sure and tag me in your beautiful photos that reveal where you find goodness & beauty. 

If you have missed my prior announcements about my upcoming speaking events, please see my event page as some ticket links have come available. I will be heading to the Bay Area, Chattanooga, Clarksville (TN), and Mandan. After speaking, I will have a chance to meet each of you and sign copies of my books, HANDS FREE MAMA and HANDS FREE LIFE.

Thank you for walking beside me. This incredible community represents a major section of my catalog of beauty. I cherish you. 

An Unusual Term for Death that Helps Me Live Fully in Today

DSC_0219“It’s the perfect time of day
It’s the last day of your life
Don’t let it drift away
While your heart is still racing
It’s the perfect time of day.”
Howie Day

I avoided a particular closet in my house for two years. Stacked inside were five large, plastic bins stuffed with loose papers, writing notebooks, and keepsakes I didn’t have time to file before we moved two years ago. Coincidentally, the items inside the containers were collected during the first four years of my journey to a less distracted life.

For the past two years, I’ve wanted to go through the massive collection piece by piece, determining whether it should be filed or discarded. But the task was immense and intimidating. It was much easier to avoid the closet altogether and plan on doing it another day.

‘Another day’ finally arrived in July when I was taking a month-long break from blogging and posting online to spend time with my family and focus on an on-going physical pain in my body.

I was only halfway through the first container when I was generously rewarded for taking on this monumental task. There, among the disarray, was something that didn’t belong to me. It was a booklet of poems addressed to my dad. I’m not sure why I had it. I’d never seen it before.

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The Photo that Conveyed a Message You Need to Hear

DSC_0131“In the morning to another day,
twisting and dodging the drops of rain
Now I know what I wanna be,
it’s what you already see.”
-Sister Hazel, You See Me Beautiful

This is a picture of my Noticer of life child and Lacie, a kitten we fostered over the summer. This photo was taken right before Lacie’s new owner came to take her to her forever home. When I looked at my camera after taking the picture, I knew I had to tell you this story, and I knew today, August 12th, would be the day.

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The Right Time to Hear Four Inclusive Words

DSC_0368I ain’t made for a rivalry, I could never take the world alone
I know that in my weakness I am stronger
It’s your love that brings me home
Brother, let me be your shelter
I’ll never leave you all alone.”
–Needtobreathe

As my daughters ran around the house excitedly looking for jean shorts and hairbands, I double-checked my purse, making sure I had four white papers tucked safely inside. I was absolutely certain this was my chance … my open window … my golden opportunity to leave an indelible recording in four impressionable young minds. Two of my daughters’ dearest friends from the state where we used to live were going to be spending the day with us. Recently, I’d felt a sense of urgency to tell these two sets of sisters something important; I refused to let time get the best of us.

The history of this special friendship was long and deep for their relatively short lives, but it was not complicated. Their connection began seven years ago with shared costumes and pretend tea. It evolved into sharing birthdays, church pews, daily rides to school, backyard forts, secrets, prayers, tears, and triumphs. Over the years, I’ve come to love them all, collectively and individually. I know their strengths. I know where they feel weak and vulnerable. I know what their faces look like when they are hurt, worried, or confused. I know when they are completely at ease. Most of all, I see the unique and important contribution each one makes in the world. I see their inner lights. And my greatest fear is that someone or something will snuff out their lights.

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I worry these vibrant young people will be lead to believe they are not enough—that they need to be smarter, smaller, taller, wittier, quieter, faster, flashier, shinier, riskier, or bolder.

One of the four girls is embarking on her first year of middle school. Two of them are embarking into their 13th year of life. The youngest of the group hits double digits in a matter of days. Moments of uncertainty, exclusion, rejection, and insecurity are common during these delicate years, as they are with many stages of life. But right now these four young ladies are listening; they are open; they are receptive. And I was going to have them all to myself. I would not waste this opportunity to provide them with inner armor; I was determined to place an important message on their hearts and wrists before someone else dared to dispute it.

I sat at a picnic table while the girls perused the outdoor mall. When ominous clouds began to move in, I sent a text to my older daughter indicating they should make their way back to the restaurant where we planned to meet for lunch.

As the girls walked up, I had a second thought. “Let’s get in the car for a moment,” I said. “I want to give you something.”

The girls happily piled in, just like they did when they were in kindergarten, minus the booster seats. As we shut the doors, the rain started coming down. It felt safe and soothing, and they were all mine; I had a captivated audience. I felt like I’d cleverly outwitted time. The young ladies looked at me expectantly.

“This is an important school year for each of you,” I began. “One of you is going to middle school, two of you are entering seventh grade, and one is turning double digits in a few days!”

They all smiled at each other, happiness and excitement graced their fresh faces, along with freckle kisses from the summer sun.

“These are exciting and wonderful years, but they can also be years when there is a lot of wondering: Am I ok? Do I need to be more like that person? Do I belong? Someone can come along and say something that makes you doubt yourself. So today I want to give you something you can look at in those moments for reassurance and truth.”

The girls opened their burlap bags to find a metal cuff that said four of the most inclusive words in the English language: Come as you are.

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I continued. “One of the first poems I wrote when I became an author was called, Come As You Are, but the words didn’t seem fitting for you. So yesterday I wrote a new version for people just starting out, people facing new beginnings—like you.”

This is what I read:

Come as you are.
Come with your quiet strength or shaky confidence.
Showing up either way takes bravery and practice.
Don’t let fear stop you from saying yes to life’s invitations.

Come as you are.
Come with your mistakes, your goofiness, your humanness.
People will love you more for it because then they can be real too.

Come as you are.
Come with what you love about yourself—whether it’s your hair, your handwriting, your smile, or the way you stand up for friends. Come with what you love about yourself even on days you can’t find anything. By showing up, you just might make that important discovery.

Come as you are.
Come with what you want to hide. Come with what makes you feel insecure.
I promise the person sitting next to you has insecurities too.
Together you can bring those hurts into the light of day where they can no longer hold you back.

Come as you are.
Come with your obnoxious laugh, your funny sneeze, your out-of-tune voice. Come with what makes you YOU. You might not realize it, but someone breathes a sigh of relief when you show up.

Come as you are.
Come with your decision to pay no mind to the haters. Refuse to let their jealousy or toxicity sabotage this moment in your life. Keep shining. Someday you’ll look back and be glad you didn’t let someone else dim your radiance.

Come as you are.
Come with your dreams, no matter how silly or outlandish. You are capable of those dreams. I’ve seen you in action—there is no limit to what you can do.

Come as you are, and offer the same acceptance to others.
Come with one kind thing to say, especially when people are staring at someone and talk is cruel. Come with kindness, and it will come back to you in ways unimaginable.  

Come as you are, just as you are.
Resist the pressure to conform.
Resist the pressure to be like someone else.
Be your beautiful, radiant, one-of-a kind self.
There is nothing more freeing than loving yourself “as is.”

Come as you are, you don’t need to change a thing—not today, not ever.
Come as you are; let your inner light invite someone else to come forth “as is.”
Come as you are, a living beacon of hope.

During the reading, the girls were quiet except for a few lines—one line brought laughter, one garnered head nods, and one line produced a fierce muscle flex. And when I was finished, the girls thanked me profusely and quickly slipped the cuffs on their wrists.

“Let’s go eat!” I exclaimed, noticing the rain had magically stopped and the sun was peaking out.

As the foursome walked toward the restaurant, one of the young ladies wrapped her arm around her friend. The next one followed suit, and then the next one, until they fell in line shoulder to shoulder.

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It was subtle, but the message was clear, “I love you for who you are. I’ve got your back, sister. I’ve got your back.”

The Armor of Acceptance

Together we are stronger than we are alone.

For a fleeting moment, I thought, my work here is done.

But I know it’s not.

My work is far from over.

I will continue to encourage and affirm these sisters every chance I get, as well as other sisters and brothers—those who I’ve met and have yet to meet, those who I love and who are hard to love.

Because don’t we all, at some point or another, wonder if we are okay … if we need changing … if we belong? What might happen if we were to start looking for those in fragile periods of uncertainty, times when they’re most open and hungry for words of acceptance and assurance? What if we were to provide a moment of shelter from conformity’s damaging forces? What if we allowed our sisters and brothers to be themselves in our presence? What if we frequently reminded them, “You are perfect just as you are?”

The Armor of Acceptance … it’s a beautiful thing.

One size fits all.
Quantities are unlimited.
Breathing room is included.

The Armor of Acceptance … it’s a beautiful thing.

I have it to give.
You have it to give.
And by giving it to others, we inadvertently give it to ourselves.

Come as you are, just as you are … and I will too. Because when I invite you, I invite myself.

Shoulder to shoulder, scar to scar, heart to heart, we are stronger together than we are alone.

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Dear friends of the Hands Free Revolution, I leave you with two important notes: 

1) As many young people head into new school years and new territories, please consider gifting them with the “come as you are” cuff (comes in copper or aluminum) and feel free to use any words I have written above to communicate your unconditional love and acceptance. There is free domestic shipping on all items in the Hands Free Shop from today until August 19th. Simply use the code LOVESCHOOL to receive that discount at checkout. The ‘see flowers not weeds’ metal cuff is back in stock.

2) Bay Area friends, tickets for my September 13th speaking event in Diablo go on sale tomorrow (Wednesday, August 10) on the event page here. The coordinators of the event indicate the event will sell out very quickly so please click their event page for that ticket link posting on 8/10. If you don’t have a Facebook account, you can contact Community Presbyterian Church who is hosting the event. Thanks to everyone who have let me know they are coming! It makes me feel so loved! I am also looking forward to seeing my friends in Chattanooga, Clarksville, and Mandan this fall. See my speaking event page for dates and ticket information. (Please note, the date of the event in Clarksville was changed to Thursday, October 6th.)

Thank you for being part of The Hands Free Revolution. Join me on Instagram for additional messages, images, and invitations to come as you are. I cherish each one of you. 

Easy Relief for Hard Times & Thirsty Souls

DSC_0325“What you need, I need too
What you are, I am too
’cause we’re all the same
under a different name.”
-Ingrid Michaelson

Throughout the month of July, I took a break from writing and posting online. I took the opportunity to relish the joy of finishing my third book, spend time with my family, and find loving homes for the six kittens we’d fostered in June. I must admit, it felt like an odd time to be quiet when so much turmoil, tragedy, conflict, and discord were happening in the world. It felt like an odd time to be quiet when there was much to be vocal about. Although I was not posting, many people were. Reading the latest news reports and passionately expressed opinions wasn’t always easy, but I did it. My belief is that when we are divided and conflicted, listening is critical. So I listened in an effort to gather information, perspective, and understanding. After listening, I found it necessary to put on my walking shoes. Walking has always been therapeutic for me, offering clarity and hope with each step I take. It’s where I do my best thinking and words fill the pocket-sized notebooks I carry with me.

My younger daughter’s swim practice gave me ample opportunity to walk each day. It lasted an hour and half. The only downside was it occurred at 2:15pm—the hottest part of the day. But the blank pages in my July writing notebook served as great motivation despite the near 100-degree temps. I’d been doing a lot of listening and thinking, but not a lot of writing. It was difficult to put into words what I was feeling in my heart. I worried I wouldn’t have any words to bring back to you. So I lathered up my exposed areas with sunscreen, threw on a ball cap, and walked by faith, hoping words would come as I wore down the soles of my shoes.

During one especially hot afternoon walk, I kept thinking about something a friend suggested to cultivate more peace and understanding within our society. She’d said something like: “Look for those who are different from you and connect with them in some way.”

That’s when I saw him—he was working in the flowerbeds at the entrance of a neighborhood. He might have looked more fitting in a professional football uniform or in secret service attire. With shoulders of a linebacker, his orange landscaping shirt was stretched to capacity and soaked with sweat. At that moment, the massive man paused over the red zinnias to wipe his brow. I knew the feeling. I’d run out of dry cloth on my tank top to wipe my face. This gave me an idea.

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A Comeback Anthem for the Fighter Within

DSC_0831“I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light.”
-Helen Keller

I was a few months late coming in for my follow-up x-ray, but as soon as the technician began speaking, it was clear I was right on time.

“How long have you had the pain?” she asked, ready to jot down my response on the form in hand.

“Over a year,” I said matter-of-factly, sounding oblivious to the fact that a year was a long time for such a thing.

She stopped writing on her clipboard and looked up. “Oh honey. I am sorry,” she said like a dear friend would to another.

I wasn’t expecting that—that human response in this sterile room with ominous machines and cold floors and exposing gowns that made me feel small and scared.

“Do you think you need a new doctor?” she asked.

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From Seeing My Worst in You to Seeing Hope for Both of Us

13

‘Cause I am done with my graceless heart
So tonight I’m gonna cut it out and then restart
‘Cause I like to keep my issues strong
It’s always darkest before the dawn.
-Florence and the Machine

You turned 13 years old this week, my beautiful daughter.

I can’t help but feel celebratory and hopeful when I look at you.

It hasn’t always been that way. For many years, I looked at you and saw the damage I’d done. I saw the traits I didn’t like in myself—ones I’d inadvertently passed down to you.

too impatient

too controlling

too worry wart

too task driven

too rushed

too independent

too overreacting

too secretive

too sensitive

too perfectionistic

too contentious

For many years, I was afraid the damage was done … and could not be redeemed.

But then I stood in front of an audience, baring my soul. You stood off to the side, away from the crowd. I wasn’t sure if you stood there in case you needed to make a fast getaway or because you didn’t want to miss a single word. I was nervous to see your reaction to my honest admissions. Yes, you’d experienced life with a critical, hurried, distracted, and spread-too-thin mother, but this would be the first time you heard my most difficult confessions spoken out loud.

My main concern was that the description you were about to hear about the “old me” – particularly the characteristics I was trying to soften and reign in – would sound an awful lot like you. I didn’t want you to think that just because I needed to make changes, you did too. I didn’t want you to think there was anything wrong with the way you were. One thing was for certain: keeping my struggles and triumphs to myself would not be helping anyone. I swallowed my fear and began to speak.

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A Way for Kids to Learn What the Right Choice Feels Like

DSC_0472 “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.” –Helen Keller

The litter of kittens arrived at our house last Wednesday night just before midnight. It was a desperate situation—I knew the minute I heard the emotional plea from the owner of the cat shelter where my daughters and I volunteer.

“The maintenance man at a nearby apartment building was going to kill them if no one came and got them.”

Kill them –

Not call animal control or ask some of the apartment residents if they could help.

Kill them.

Just kill them.

“I can detect empty threats, Rachel, and this is not one of them,” the shelter owner continued. “I know you did not sign up to foster cats, but I already have twenty in my house. I wanted to see if you’d be willing to foster the kittens until they’re old enough to be placed up for adoption.”

While I am usually a planner, thinking carefully through all decisions that impact our family, I answered immediately. “Yes, of course,” I said without hesitation, praying my not-a-fan-of-cats husband would understand.

Very late that night the five-week-old kittens arrived. My older daughter Natalie insisted on waiting by the door and helping me get them settled. It was only their second night without their mother who was very sick from outdoor elements, lack of nourishment, and an infectious tick bite.

But the kittens did not cry. They relaxed when we held them. They purred loudly and nestled in for warmth.

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The next morning I sent an explanatory text message (hopeful plea) to my husband who was out of town at the time of the kittens’ arrival. I also added some adorable photos for extra reinforcement. (Couldn’t hurt!)

A few minutes later, my husband texted back: “You did the right thing.”
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Taking Off the Ticking Clock

 

taking off the ticking clock #handsfreemama.com

It was while watching my daughter eat a sno-cone on a summer trip to the beach that I experienced a life-changing epiphany.

Truth be told, it was our second trip to The Sno-Cone Shack in three days. (Believe me, these were not your average sno-cones.) On this particular visit, Avery got a scoop of wedding cake and a scoop of cherry. I don’t think I will ever forget how delicious that unlikely combination of flavors tasted when  my daughter gave me the very last bite.

Because I didn’t hurry her.

Because I said, “Take your time, baby. We don’t have to rush.”

Because that big ol’ ticking clock that I wore around my neck during my impatient Hurry Up Years had been left behind. Without the squeeze of that ticking clock around my throat, I could breathe; my child could breathe. I was all there with my daughter on that unforgettable day.

stopped saying 'hurry up' #handsfreemama

I ended up writing about the sno-cone experience and provided a painful glimpse of what life was like when I pushed and prodded that same little girl through her day. I had no idea millions of people would eventually read those painful truths—but even if I had known, I still would’ve written it—for the people walking around with the heavy clocks around their necks.

I had the chance to edit the story before The Huffington Post published it. I remember looking at the live preview thinking I should probably add something like:  “While it is important to have unhurried moments in life, it is equally important to instill a sense of responsibility and promptness in our children.” After all, I was a teacher for ten years. I know full well the importance of promptness and dependability.

But I didn’t change one word of that story. Not one. I knew I would take some heat, but I was okay with that. I was writing to The Clock Wearers of the World—the ones functioning at one speed and one speed only … the ones “hurry upping” their loved ones through life even when it wasn’t necessary … the ones who’d lost sight of what really mattered by living in constant state of urgency. I knew breathing was becoming labored for those wearing the ticking clocks heavy on their chests. I knew because that is how I lived for so long.

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The Sleep Plan That Eased My Child’s Worries & Made Me a Better Person

DSC_0911“Let me carry your burden
If something’s not right I will let you know
Like the paint that’s drying on a heart that’s poor
Let me carry your burden
Get you back on a high when you’re feeling low
When the weight’s too heavy but you won’t let go.”
Foy Vance, Burden

Last week my daughters and I traveled to the beautiful hills of Asheville, North Carolina to celebrate my precious parents’ 54th wedding anniversary. My younger daughter begged to room with my older sister, Rebecca. This meant my almost 13-year-old daughter, Natalie, and I would be roomies. Although I was thrilled for this sacred time with her, I knew this combination could mean trouble. The two of us are cut from the same ultra productive, list-checking, resistant-to-relax cloth and have the tendency to come alive at night. Whether it’s watching a show, organizing a closet, planning a project, or playing with our cat, we don’t wind down; we wind up. While it can feel like a good idea at the time, there is always a repercussion for sacrificing sacred sleeping hours. It doesn’t take long to see the telltale signs of sleep deprivation in my girl. Within a few days, there are dark circles underlined with irritability, forgetfulness, and distractibility. I can recognize these danger signs in my daughter because I spent two years denying them in myself.

Contained within the two-year period of my intentional sleep deprivation are some of my most painful and embarrassing memories. During that time, I smashed my husband’s coffee pot in anger. I blew through a red light while completely lost in thought, nearly hitting the driver of an oncoming truck. I screamed at my beautiful family one night and ran out to my car, pajamas clad and barefoot, thinking I might leave forever.

There are more stories, all equally difficult to type through blurry tears. But one can be certain my sleep deprivation stories all contain irrational thinking, poor decision making, overreaction, raised voices, and regret … lots and lots of regret.

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