By Rachel Stafford

“By offering to GIVE love, you are offering yourself a chance to BE loved.”
–Rachel Macy Stafford

Something happened over the holidays that I wasn’t planning to share, but I’ve decided it must not be kept to myself. You see, lately I am getting a lot of messages from readers that say, “I am who you once were, but I don’t know if there is hope for me; I don’t know if I can change; I think it’s too late for me.”

Three and a half years ago, I said those same words to myself. In fact, when I began taking steps to let go of my distracted, perfectionistic, hurried ways I didn’t tell anyone for three months. Why? Because I thought change was not possible for me. I once believed I was too far gone to ever come back. But this past December 24th, I was powerfully reminded what I once believed was so wrong. Here is my story. May it reach someone who longs to believe change is possible.

Believing is the first step.

We were supposed to leave the house in nineteen minutes. In my hand, I held my child’s holiday dress and her pretty tights.

“Honey, it’s time to wake up and get dressed for the Christmas Eve service,” I said gently to my seven-year-old daughter who was barely visible under a mound of blankets.

“I’m too tired,” she moaned without opening her eyes.

Two hours earlier I’d suggested she take a nap since we’d be up late, but now I was regretting it. My lethargic child looked as if she could sleep for several more hours.

“Come on, I’ll help you get dressed,” I offered.

She didn’t move a muscle.

This was not like her, but yet I was starting to feel agitated. “You can have two more minutes to rest, then it will be time to get up,” I firmly stated using a tactic that worked well with my former special education students.

After tidying up a few things around her room and glancing at my unusually put-together appearance in her mirror, I told my daughter it was time to get up now.

“I don’t feel good,” she cried.

I expelled a long, hot breath before speaking. “Mommy is trying to be patient with you, but I am starting to feel impatient,” I said honestly. “I’ll take you to the bathroom and then I bet you’ll feel better.”

At the pace of an elderly person with bad arthritis, she gingerly crawled out of bed and plopped down on the toilet.

“I will put on your tights right here,” I said knowing we needed to leave the house very shortly if we were going to get seats in the service.

“I don’t feel good,” she repeated once again—but this time the word “good” turned into one long wail. Her face crumpled in pain.

Three and a half years ago, this is when I would have lost it.  This is when I would have gruffly shoved her feet into those tights and barked that we were going to be late. This is when thoughts of my own agenda, my own appearance, my own timetable, and my own demands would have overruled all else. This is when things would have gotten ugly.

But things are different now.

I stopped trying to put on the tights. I leaned back on my bended knees and studied her a moment. I saw my small child (who ordinarily wants to please and do as she is told) not being herself. I considered for a moment letting her go to church in the Dri-Fit clothes she was wearing with her hair sticking up in seventeen directions. I reminded myself that being a few minutes late would not be the end of the world.

And that’s when my child began throwing up. Violent heaves wracked her small body in waves.

Miraculously, I didn’t think about my lovely dress that I had never worn or the time on the clock or the fact she missed the toilet all together. I didn’t think about the fact our dinner party that night would have to be cancelled or that all our fun plans for the evening would be ruined. I only thought was that my precious child was sick on Christmas Eve, the night she’d been so excited about for months.

As I bathed her and tucked her back in bed, I prayed she would feel better tomorrow morning. With the innocence of a child she meekly asked, “Do I have to go to church, Mama?”

I kissed her gently on the cheek. “No, baby. You are sick. Daddy has offered to stay with you while the rest of us go to church.”

“Thank you, Mama,” she said closing her eyes with relief.

Thirty minutes later, I sat in a candlelit sanctuary, my breathing now slow and steady as my older daughter rested against me. And that’s when it hit me—the difference between THEN and NOW. During that episode with my younger daughter I had every reason to become frustrated, impatient, and upset.

But I didn’t.

I was able to look at her as a child, not a miniature adult.
I was able to realize yelling or forcing were not going to help the situation.
I was able to keep what really mattered in perspective while my best laid plans went terribly awry.

Three and a half years ago, I never would have thought I could respond calmly in a time like that. Three and a half years ago, it was unfathomable to think this kind of change in me was possible. I was too Type A. I was a perfectionist … a control freak … a drill sergeant. I’d made too many mistakes. I’d controlled for too long. I’d already done too much damage. This was just who I was … who I had become … who I would forever be.

But there was a little voice inside me that said, “No. It doesn’t have to be this way. You can be the parent and the person you yearn to be.” And through God’s grace, I chose to believe I was not too far gone, that it was not too late. That belief inspired me to take one baby step toward the person and parent I longed to be. I locked my phone in a drawer, shut down my computer, pushed aside my to-do list and I went to my small daughter and held her. I will never forget how she picked up my hand and kissed my palm. Her loving response motivated me to continue to make myself fully available for small increments of time. To my surprise, those I’d wronged responded with love.

With love.

Like there was never any doubt.

My change to a less distracted life started with ten minutes. Ten minutes of putting aside the phone, the computer, the to-do list, the regret, the resentment, the impatience, the guilt, the pressure, and the doubt. I pushed it all away so I could be fully available to love and be loved.

Ten minutes. That is where I started.

And today, that is where you can start too.

You may have a mile-long list of mistakes and failures,
You may have yelled at someone you love just a few minutes ago,
You may feel undeserving of another chance,
You may believe you cannot change,

I know. I remember. But I tried anyway.

And in that initial ten minutes of meaningful connection, I experienced a healing peace that I hadn’t felt in years, maybe even decades. That is when I realized life was meant to be lived …

Not managed
Not controlled
Not screamed
Not stressed
Not strangled
Not guilt ridden
Not regretted
Not wasted by thinking it’s too late to turn things around.

Because as long as you are breathing, it’s not too late to try.

Believe one small step can make a difference.

Believe ten minutes of open hands and attentive eyes can bring hope and healing back to your life.

Believe your life is meant to be lived … enjoyed … even celebrated regardless of what happened yesterday.

And if you are having a hard time believing, offer a few minutes of time and presence to someone you love. Watch what happens when you offer yourself—messy, scarred, and broken, it doesn’t matter. By offering to give love, you are offering yourself a chance to be loved.

Be loved.
Be loved.

My friend, if you have ten minutes and a willing heart, it might just be enough to make a believer out of you.

As long as you are breathing, it’s not too late to try!

Rachel Macy Stafford is a certified special education teacher with a Master’s Degree in education and ten years of experience working with parents and children. In December 2010, this life-long writer felt compelled to share her journey to let go of distraction and grasp what really matters by creating the blog “Hands Free Mama.” Using her skills as a writer, teacher, and encourager, Rachel provides readers with simple, non-intimidating, and motivating methods to let go of distraction and connect with their loved ones. Rachel’s work has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Global News, USA Today, TIME.com, MSN.com, The Huffington Post, and Reader’s Digest. Her blog currently averages one million visitors a month. Rachel’s new book, HANDS FREE MAMA, is a New York Times Bestseller.