Thursday, January 9, 2014

Hands Free Mama and The Journey to Joy

I don't really advocate for much. I do not champion causes. I don't really like to be pushy or boastful, I don't want to endorse or rant around here, I just want to show you some silly kid things and tell you what I've been thinking, that's all.

So, when a blogger I know, Rachel Macy Stafford, asked if I could take a look at her then soon-to-be-published book, I didn't know what to say.

I just looked up the word champion: transitive verb : to fight or speak publicly in support of (a person, belief, cause, etc.)

Well, you know what, I will champion her cause. I like transitive verbs. And, I believe in her. So, what can I do to help here, maybe something like this...

Rachel's book Hands Free Mama is subtitled with this perfect distillation of her message: A Guide to Putting Down the Phone, Burning the To-Do List, and Letting Go of Perfection to Grasp What Really Matters. She advocates making ourselves more available to our children, and each other, by freeing our hands of the devices - and our minds of the distractions - of everyday life in this frenetic twenty-first century. She does this with a gentleness that is both healing and redemptive. She leads you to look in on yourself, on your actions, with purpose, and then she teaches you to reach out with grace.

No, that's too heavy handed... Let's see.

A couple of stories? Yes, that would help.

I am standing at a bar with friend of mine, a younger, hip, connected kind of guy with a career in the computer world. We are talking about something important, hops I think, and he notices a couple of leather bracelets I wear with burnt letters spelling, curiously, “live hands free.”

"What's up with those," he asks, and picks up his iPhone which has just done that curious spinning move phones do when only set to vibrate, and begins to fiddle, with both hands, furiously, deftly, practicedly – mindlessly, in truth – as I try to keep his attention.

I try to explain that a blogger I know has a site and a new book coming out about the distractions and devices we put between us and our kids... or friends. She is trying to show overly distracted people how, with actual plans of action and real tangible tools and exercises, to achieve the goal to 'live hands free.'

He looks over his phone at me for a moment and says: "So, that's even a thing...?" He trails off and goes back to his text.

Another time I was coaching first base, a boy I'll call Jon was up to bat, he hadn't connected all year and it was the second to last game of the season, and, he knew it. Finally, after a few foul tips he punches one right up the line at me, I duck and when I came up I saw him beaming and running at me like the colt he had become. The boys on the team went nuts, our coaches went nuts, the other teams coaches, sensing the moment, cheered. In fact everyone went nuts.... everyone except Jon's Dad. No, he had wandered off, his back to the game, phone to his ear, just as he'd done at all the previous games. I watched Jon's eyes dart to where his Dad had been seated, I saw the instant of heartbreak, I saw that boy lessen, get smaller.

No, no, no... that doesn't really help champion her cause, that just simply shows the problem. The problem that sits like an elephant on the dining-room table, no, sits like a giant 1950's computer whirring and spinning and clicking and clacking precursing the tiny devices of today, still whirring and spinning and clicking and clacking and getting in the middle of everything. You know the problem, you've seen it, I know you have. It is as plain and as obvious as the noses on the faces buried in the laptops and phones and tablets everywhere you look... uh, if you could see them.

Well, this is harder than I thought it would be. Mostly, and here is where I don't want to sound smug, I really don't suffer from full hands. I am a pretty “hands-free” guy. When I first encountered Rachel’s blog I was struck by something else, something beyond her deep and important mission, something beyond the heroic stance she had taken and advocates.

Her words.

Poetry. Storytelling.

In the introduction of Hands Free Mama she tells the story of her distracted, harried self seeing the beautiful loneliness in her daughter, sitting down with her and, in an emotional scene, her daughter lifts up Rachel’s hand and kisses her palm. The first of so many stories, deep, heartfelt, important stories, that Rachel tells as she guides us along a path that she has blazed herself, bravely and without regret.

Twelve chapters - each with a sub-head - some are below:

Acknowledge the cost of your distraction / Awareness
Choose what matters / Deliberateness
Recognize the gift of today / Presentness
See through undistracted eyes / Clarity
Seize the callings of your heart / Compassion
Remember life is precious / Gratefulness

You see what she's done there, presented an action statement using a strong, stalwart verb and then softened that with what is essentially the state to which that action will take you. Simple, essential, perfect. In fact the whole damn table of contents reads like a poem.

Truth be told, I am not the demographic that I am sure the fine folks at Zondervan hope will love Rachel's book – and they will. I am fifty-plus years old, I read philosophy, I pray daily, I play guitar and sing regularly, I drink scotch late into the night and dream into the fireplace. I find the time to do these things. I am very connected to the boys – I know them. What I am trying not to say here is that her “hands-free” message is not what initially drew me to her.  Again, I tell you,  it was her words, words which she lined up to tell the story of her distracted self, in a car, at a stop light, and the moment that changed everything. I was mesmerized – still am.

There is a section in each chapter that really shows the rich control and the depth of understanding it takes to write from the heart, as Rachel does so well, called the “Hands Free Reflection.” Each one a poem, metered or not, capable of shining alone, but focused on each chapters goal. In Chapter Ten, Let go / Forgiveness, it is a beautiful piece called “Free from the Heavy” and in the last half of it she writes:

We show up.
And we keep showing up.
Because we know someone is counting on us
And when that someone sees us showing up, it means more than we
even know.
Then one day, maybe sooner than we think, every sacrifice we ever
made and every tear we ever cried will be exchanged for something
Maybe it will be a tender word, an apologetic embrace, an expression
of joy – whatever it is, we will know because it is the moment we have
been waiting for, perhaps praying for.
In that moment we will shine at the one we love and the one we love
will shine back at us.
And every past mistake that once weighed heavily on our soul will be
overshadowed by the light of a beautiful moment in time.
And at last we will be free from the heavy.

Three words echo back to me from this, tender, joyful, embrace.

That is how Rachel's words make me feel.

So, it occurs to me, sort of late into this I'll admit, that I am not exactly sure what I am championing here. Honestly, I get fired up about everyone’s face in a device. I have seen it lead to unprecedented heights of distraction and, sadly, it can keep us from our kids. I know that. You know that. Rachel knows that as well. But, she goes so beyond showing us that obvious problem. She wants to take you on a journey towards joy. Only a fool wouldn't see the validity of her mission.

That being said, and, honestly, beyond all that, Rachel has a voice that absolutely soars. She tells stories of great sadness, stories we need to hear, stories longing to be told, and then she finds the redemption in them. With a tenderness beyond definition she shows you how to forgive yourself, not for the devices in your hand for they are merely silly props, but for not seeing the good that surrounds us, each and everyone. She makes this so much easier because we understand that she forgave herself.

Hands Free Mama is story-telling at its finest and fine stories always find a way to be heard. Rachel may think that her stories serve her cause, softening the edges of what is a controversial subject, helping her find the courage to voice the pain and ultimate escape from the distractions of a full-on life. But, I think it might be the other way around. I think the depth and tenderness and beauty of these essential stories simply needed a way to be told.

Her words shine brighter than the worthiness of her cause. I can't imagine how anyone other than Rachel Macy Stafford could have pulled that off.

Well, you've stayed this long, perhaps you'll listen to one last story. I had on the same bracelets which, by now, I hope you have realized, are Hands Free Mama bracelets, at the school the other day and a Mom I was volunteering with noticed them and asked me about them. Now, how to put this delicately, this is a Mom who might, benefit, shall we say, from the message of Hands Free Mama, so, I was eager to give her the blog info. We were standing in the foyer of the school so I went rooting around my pockets for a pen and piece of paper. I wrote down the web address of Rachel's site quickly and, as I handed it to her, I realized what I'd written it down on … the back of one of my own blog cards.

Oh, uh, don't worry about my blog, but do head on over to Hands Free Mama , it's much better.” I heard myself say. True story.

Thanks for stopping by today. All the info to order Rachel's book and become a part of her thriving, joyful community is here:

Oh, and I'd get a hard copy if I were you, those paper pages absorb tears so much better...


  1. I'm glad you introduced Rachel here, Bill. One of my biggest pet peeves is people who are too busy. Mostly because when I'M too busy, too distracted, I really fall apart. Much more so than a lot of other people, frankly. Living a simpler life really helps me find balance, and yes, like you say, it's good for the kids.

    Having said that, I'd really love to play Angry Birds on some sort of sparkly newfangled device. But the technology (and money for it) eludes us. For good reason, says my wife. So my three-year-old and I just make infrequent trips to Best Buy specifically to play Angry Birds on their tablets. And otherwise we live (mostly) happily with our single eight-year-old cell phone. On which I still don't know how to text.

  2. Buying this for my wife and I, and sharing your review. Very nice write up Bill.

  3. I discovered her blog relatively recently. She wrote a post about her daughter and the fear daughter had dealing with her because she was always rushed. I don't remember all the details but I do know it made me think of myself and the rushing I do in the name of productivity. Really well written and moving piece. Made me think. I like that. Anyway, the book sounds good as well.

  4. Bill, once again, your encouraging words deeply touch my heart. From the beginning, you have being leaving comments on my blog that are so beautifully written they are like small masterpieces. I can assure you, I will be printing this review and placing it with my other precious Lifelines people have given me that I read and re-read over and over. And I will also share this with my parents. This will mean so much to them. You are a treasure. Thank you for blessing me again … and again … and again.

  5. Will be buying this, pronto. Great review.