“We teach best what we most need to learn,” is one of my favorite quotes by Richard Bach. I would add that we write best what we most need to learn.
Bestselling author Rachel Macy Stafford has written two books on a topic she needed to learn: Hands Free Mama (2013) and now Hands Free Life: Nine Habits for Overcoming Distraction, Living Better, and Loving More (2015.) In her ongoing journey to let go of distraction, perfection, and societal pressures to grasp what really matters, she has discovered nine intentional habits of a “Hands Free Life.” These life-changing practices make up the nine chapters of her book and fall into three parts: Creating Lasting Connections, Living for Today, and Protecting What Matters.
Along with a huge following of moms, I am drawn to her poignant self-revelations because they resonate so deeply with me. Here’s one from the habit: See What Is Good.
Like a robot, I could speak of my life’s abundant blessings, but I could no longer see or feel them because I was too focused on my life’s abundant distractions. Too many commitments. Too many screens. Too many self-induced pressures to be all and do all. Too many unachievable standards. Too many to-dos and never enough time. Too many balls in the air, not enough hands to catch them.
Her outward discontent seemed to peak when it was time to leave the house. She fussed and fumed with her two young daughters trying to get them ready and out the door. Their efforts to help only intensified her exasperation and annoyance. When they finally got in the car and Rachel looked in the rear view mirror, she saw her older daughter anxiously picking her top lip.
She could practically read her mind: Mommy’s mad. Mommy’s tired. Mommy’s stressed. And worse, she could practically hear how a young child would interpret her mother’s unhappiness: Mommy’s mad at me. Mommy’s tired because of me. Mommy’s stressed because of something I did.
One Small Step to Bring Back Joy
All at once, she could no longer deny the damage her negative approach to life was having on her family. All the excuses she’d made for being harsh and direct, for constant faultfinding, and for being in a foul mood suddenly held no credibility. While choosing to emphasize every “problem” of her blessed life, she’d funneled her discontent straight into her daughter’s once joyful heart and spirit.
At that point, she vowed to take one small step to bring back their lost joy. A few days later as they were heading to school in a frenzied rush, she stopped the car by the side of the road and opened the sunroof to show her daughters the morning sky filled with a million little white clouds. Both girls were so joyful, Rachel decided to capture the image with her camera.
As she placed her camera at just the right angle, she let out a little gasp. Right in the middle of this beautiful image was a perfect little handprint on the glass. “Are you going to wipe the hand off, Mama?” her older daughter asked, knowing her mother liked things clean and tidy.
“No.” Rachel shook her head and said, “never.” At that moment she knew something extraordinary was taking place inside her and she wanted to stretch this unforgettable moment out a bit more. They were all smiling as Rachel recognized it as a divine sign to look harder, look longer, look deeper beyond the mess, mistakes, and mayhem to see the goodness to find joy again.
The fact that she did not wipe that handprint away became significant as she strived to see the blessings over the inconveniences. She realized that much of what aggravated her was trivial. Much of what was supposedly “ruined” were things that could be fixed or cleaned up.
See What Is Good
But learning to see the positives in situations and surroundings was only the starting point of viewing life through Hands Free eyes. Seeing the positives in people (particularly characteristics that had once been perceived as weaknesses) was the epitome of living and loving fully and freely.
I could relate to that perfect little handprint. I have a whole set of little handprints on the inside of my new car’s rear window. As a mom, I would have whisked those handprints away. But as a grandma, I keep those precious handprints to remind me of my granddaughter. She put them there when she stretched out her arms during a long ride.
Like Rachel, my initial inclination was to wipe them off because traces of my perfectionist self still remain a part of who I am. I am also aware of the high expectations and pressures I impose on myself. And like Rachel, I remind myself that smudgy little handprints can be something to marvel at, instead of to destroy.
The lesson here, or “habit” as she calls them, is to See What Is Good. So when you find yourself going down the damaging path of criticism or comparison, remind yourself to try this freeing line: Good enough for today.
This perspective allows us to see beyond our distractions, our hang-ups, and our preconceived notions to see the blessings right in front of us. See What Is Good allows us to be an encourager rather than a dictator, an original instead of a conformist, and a bearer of joy rather than a messenger of gloom. Happiness beats perfection. Every. Single. Time.
Rachel’s book is filled with sweet stories of epiphanies she’s had with her two daughters. She has a large following of moms who embrace her message about putting down the technology and going “hands free.” For me technology is not the challenge. I can put mine down and be “hands free.” But putting down my “inner competitor/perfectionist,” a term Rachel used to describe her former self is much harder. I’ve been “working” on myself my entire life and I’ve gotten better about recognizing my tendencies and trying to change them. The older I get the easier it gets.
I love reading Rachel’s honest and personally revealing stories and lessons. They’re uplifting and accessible. I’m grateful to have found her.