what to look for when you’ve lost your joy

During a late-night chat with her sick daughter, Rachel Macy Stafford heard a phrase that moved her deeply. Rachel had just miscalculated her mother’s age, and her daughter corrected her in an unforgettable way. She spread her small fingers as far as they could go and said, “I’m keeping track of life.” In that moment, the hairs on Rachel’s arms stood up because she knew exactly what it meant. Keeping track of life is knowing you’re on your true path toward personal fulfillment. It’s being at peace with who you are and how you are living. What began as small steps to change her distracted, perfectionistic, and hurried existence outlined in her New York Times bestseller, Hands Free Mama, grew into a transformed perspective—one that profoundly altered the way Rachel made decisions, interacted with her loved ones, focused her attention, and spent the precious minutes and hours of her God-given days. Through inspiring stories and doable daily habits, Rachel shows us how we can replenish our connection-starved souls in her new book, Hands Free Life. It’s a grace to welcome Rachel to the farm’s front porch today…

guest post by Rachel Macy Stafford

I didn’t know when I’d changed from a positive person to a negative one; I only knew I had.

I could still remember myself as a cheerful special education teacher, somehow managing to see the positives in every student and every situation, no matter how dismal.

But somewhere along the line, I stopped seeing the goodness.

I focused solely on what was wrong and what needed to be changed.

Given the fact I had a loving husband, two beautiful children, a healthy mind and body, and a safe and comfortable home, you would have thought I’d wake up every morning feeling grateful, optimistic, and content. But that was not the case.

I woke up feeling the same way I did when I went to bed the night before—unhappy, annoyed, and irritable.

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-do’s and never enough time.

Too many balls in the air, not enough hands to catch them.

My outward discontent seemed to peak when it was time to leave the house. Although they were young, my children seemed to brace themselves for my daily departure tirade.

While I fussed and fumed getting everyone ready and out the door, Avery grew very quiet. Natalie tried to help any way she could, assisting her slow-moving little sister with her shoes, gathering snacks in Ziploc bags, and wiping stray cereal pieces from the kitchen counter.

Of course, through my critical eyes, her helpful attempts only made it take longer and were never good enough. I didn’t try to hide my exasperation or annoyance.

It shouldn’t have come as a shock when I looked in the rearview mirror to see Natalie anxiously picking her top lip as I pulled out of the driveway one morning. As she pinched that tiny piece of fragile skin with wide eyes, I could practically read her mind: Mommy’s mad. Mommy’s tired. Mommy’s stressed.

But there was more. I 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.

All at once, I could no longer deny the damage my negative approach to life was having on my family.

All the excuses I 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 my blessed life, I’d funneled my discontent straight into my daughter’s once joyful heart and spirit. The pain on her face was a direct reflection of the expression I wore on mine.

I said a tearful prayer right then and there asking God to show me one small step I could take to bring back our lost joy.

A few days later we were just leaving our neighborhood to head to school. As usual, I’d corralled everyone into the car in a frenzied rush.

But instead of barking orders and slamming doors, I remained calm in light of my earlier prayer.

“Look up,” a little voice inside me urged. I took my foot off the gas pedal and leaned forward to peer through my windshield.

As far as my eyes could see, the sky was filled with a million little white clouds. It was as if a heavenly baker had taken an icing bag and decorated the sky, one sweet puff at a time.

I pulled the car over to show my daughters what it looked like when the morning sky decided to stay in bed, covering itself in an ivory quilt stitched by divine hands. “Look up,” I said repeating the same words I’d heard a few minutes before.

Both girls looked up in unison.

Natalie let out a little gasp. “I love it! I love it!” she exclaimed as if I’d just presented her with the ladybug Pillow Pet she’d been eyeing for six months. Avery clasped her hands together and let out a joyful squeal.

I decided this unusual sky was a sight worth capturing. As I placed my camera at just the right angle, I found myself letting out a little gasp, just as my daughter had moments before.

There at the forefront of this magnificent sea of clouds was the most perfect little handprint on the glass. Knowing her mother liked things clean and tidy, Natalie asked, “Are you going to wipe the hand off, Mama?”

“No,” I shook my head trying not to cry. “Never,” I whispered knowing something life changing was taking place in that moment.

As my daughters looked up and marveled at the handprint against a backdrop of floating clouds, I noticed all our faces matched.

We were all smiling. Smiling.

This unique little imprint, found in the rarest of places, served as a divine sign to look harder, look longer, look deeper beyond the mess, mistakes, and mayhem to see Glimmers of Goodness. I was certain God was telling me this is where I would find joy again.

Seeing the blessings among the challenges and inconveniences of life became my daily prayer and my path back to joy.

Today, it could be yours too:

Thank you, hurried morning. It is in the hunt for shoes, library books, and backpacks that I appreciate the slow Saturday. I shall pay attention and appreciate the Slow Saturday.

Thank you, perpetually cluttered house. It is in finding rumpled sheets, toothpaste blobs, and abandoned socks that I appreciate the evidence of life being lived. I shall pay attention and appreciate Life Being Lived.

Thank you, growing older. It is in finding another gray hair and another laugh line that I appreciate the gift of another day. I shall pay attention and appreciate the Gift of Another Day.

Thank you, free-spirited child. It is in experiencing everything a little faster, a little louder, and a little riskier that I appreciate the courage it takes to be bold. I shall pay attention and appreciate Being Bold.

Thank you, sensitive child. It is in experiencing everything a little deeper and a little more quietly that I see the beauty of a tender heart. I shall pay attention and appreciate the Tender Heart.

Thank you, pang of guilt. It is in wishing that I did things differently that I appreciate the opportunity of Second Chances. I shall pay attention and appreciate Second Chances.

Thank you, daily challenge. It is in looking straight into the face of sorrow, struggle, fear, frustration, heartache, and worry that I appreciate the fact I keep showing up. I shall pay attention and appreciate the fact that I Keep Showing Up.

And I will keep showing up.

Because even on the hardest days, even in the most challenging moments, I can see tiny glimmers of goodness if I look closely for them.

So today I shall pay attention and appreciate any divine Glimmers of Goodness I can find.

And they shall bring me joy.



Rachel Macy Stafford is the founder of www.handsfreemama.com and the New York Times bestselling author of Hands Free Mama. The story she shares today is from her newly released book, Hands Free Life: 9 Habits for Overcoming Distraction, Living Better, and Loving More. 

In this new book, Rachel describes how she finally started living life, instead of managing, stressing, screaming, and barely getting through life. Through truthful storytelling and nine life-changing Habit Builders, Rachel shows us how to respond to our loved ones and ourselves with more love, more presence, and more grace. Highly recommending Hands Free Life,  to help you intentionally grasp what really matters in your life.

[ Our humble thanks to Zondervan for their partnership in today’s devotion. ]